As Kris and Justin Miller watched a history program, their daughter Ivy came into the room and said, “That’s Abe Lincoln.”
When asked what she knew about Abraham Lincoln, the St. Francis Elementary School kindergartner told her Oak Grove parents all that she learned in her all-day, everyday kindergarten (ADED K) about the president, including that he was on the penny and that he was killed.
While Kris Miller was initially reluctant to send her daughter to ADED K, she is now glad the St. Francis School District offers the program free of charge to all kindergartners.
This is the first year the district has provided ADED K, said District 15 Superintendent Ed Saxton.
Before settling on the ADED K model, the district tried the half-day, everyday as well as all-day, every other day, but decided that the tuition-free ADED K program was best option for the students.
Having the kindergartners every day and for the full school day allows the teachers to cover subjects at a more leisurely pace and cover more information, Saxton said.
During the half-day, everyday program, teachers only have 2.5 hours with the kids and that required going over things at a brisk pace to make sure all the required topics were covered, he said.
The all-day, every other day kindergarten allowed teachers to slow the pace, but it was difficult to keep continuity, according to Saxton.
The district even offered ADED K classes as a tuition program, at a cost of $2,900 per child, during the 2011-2012 school year.
While the students in the program were excelling in reading and math, the program was creating an achievement gap within the district, Saxton said.
The tuition program had 94 students enrolled. There are 321 kindergartners enrolled this year.
Students in the ADED K are achieving things that students in the previous models did not.
“The kids were all reading before winter recess,” Saxton said.
“(ADED K) has been very successful.”
To provide the tuition-free ADED K, the school district had to shuffle some of its funds.
In February 2012, the district decided to use the $101,365 it saved by eliminating the mid-day bus routes and $254,623 in literacy aid funds to pay for the new kindergarten program.
“The state pays a little more than half of the funding for the kindergartners and we pay a little less than half,” Saxton said.
If Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed $40 million proposal for ADED K throughout the state is approved, District 15 will benefit, he said.
The district would then only be paying for 30 percent of the cost, nearly a 20 percent reduction for 2014-2015, Saxton said.
The additional funding could be used to expand technology, like the 3D pilot project it is testing in one of its fourth-grade STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes.
But not everyone is for the ADED K program.
School board member Suzanne Erkel wants to give parents the choice of sending students to half day or all day.
Some children are not ready for all-day classes and it would not be in their best interest to attend all-day kindergarten, she said.
If the child is not ready, they will not pickup the information, Erkel said.
She believes there is research that supports half- day kindergartners do catch up with their full-day counterparts once they are in first grade, although Erkel could not provide the name of the study.
Boardmember Marsha Van Denburgh believes the program is costing the older students because two intervention teachers have become kindergarten teachers.
That means there are two less teachers per school working with the older students that need the extra help, she said.
While the community seems to want the ADED K program, the long-term benefits have not been proven, according to Van Denburgh.
A Kansas State University 2001 study found the advantages don’t extend passed second grade and diminish over time, she said.
A 2006 study, funded by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, studied 7,897 students and found that the student achievement from ADED K made little difference as the children progressed through school, Van Denburgh said.
Justin Miller disagrees.
Many of his co-workers have had children go through the ADED K and he said there was a marked educational difference from the kids that attended half day and those in the full-day program.
The half-day kids had a lot of catching up to do to reach the academic level of the full-day kids, Justin Miller said.
Kris Miller admits to being a little anxious at being separated from Ivy in the beginning.
“It was more about me than it was about if Ivy could handle (ADED K),” said the stay-at-home mom of two.
Kris Miller doesn’t think Ivy would be progressing as far if she were in a half-day program.
If the district would return to charging tuition for the full-day program, both Millers said they would pay for their younger son to attend.
Angela Leners was another parent with mixed feelings toward the ADED K program.
While she misses him during the school day, the program is worth it because not having her son Elliot in ADED K would put him at an educational disadvantage, said the St. Francis mom.
The kids that go through the ADED K program have better developed reading skills, social skills and are able to handle the school routine better, she said.
His math skills are amazing and he is already reading some books independently, Leners said.
Watching her son Henry go through kindergarten has amazed Tracy Schirmers.
He has hit his academic milestones quicker than he would have if he had been in half-day kindergarten, said the Nowthen mom.
Schirmers had considered enrolling Henry in another school district but decided to stay with District 15 because it offered the all day program.
The ADED K classes are “… a more appropriate setting,” said St. Francis Elementary School kindergarten teacher Julie Polsfut.
The instruction can be done at a more appropriate speed and kids that can’t keep up at the higher pace of the half-day classes are no longer being left behind, said fellow teacher Beth Anderson.
With an average class size of 18 students and a full day to work with them, the teachers can figure out how each child learns best, said teacher Julie Wieczorek.
The longer day also allows teachers to spend time or repeat segments of the lessons for kids that are struggling, said teacher Briana Anderson.
The benefits far out way those offered by the half- day program and “these kids are going to be much more ready for first grade,” she said.
To see the ECM Editorial Board’s editorial on ADED K, click here.
Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]