MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 31, 2013

Officials: Full-day kindergarten is vital

— Karen Huddleston’s kindergarten class at Creek Elementary did many learning activities Friday.

The students colored Easter eggs, then wrote instructions on coloring eggs in their journals. The students also met as a group with their teacher and talked about the solar system.

Officials say the six hours per day kindergartners spend in class in Muskogee is important, but the district waits to see if a bill passes the State Legislature and becomes law that will remove a looming full-day kindergarten mandate. If the bill fails and the mandate becomes effective July 1, Muskogee Public Schools stands to take a $700,000 budget hit.

Muskogee Public Schools remains committed to keeping full-day kindergarten, school officials said.

“We’ve been giving kids full-day kindergarten for more than 20 years,” said Peggy Jones, executive director for curriculum and instruction. “We have committed to that idea of early childhood education being a full day for a long time.

“If we look at the standards that are now connected to kindergarten, we really see that kindergarten is the new first grade,” Jones said. “We’ve had to revamp our curriculum to meet that which is mandated for our kindergartners, and it can’t be taught in a half day.”

Teri Brecheen, executive director of literacy and early childhood at the State Department of Education, said Oklahoma has been tracking half-day and full-day student numbers for more than a decade.

In 2000-2001, there was 27,836 kindergartners in half-day, and the same year 15,139 in full-day. It made a total of 42,975 kindergartners total for the state, she said.

“So when we move into this year 2012-2013, we have 1,314 kindergartners in half-day, 53,794 in full-day, and a total of 55,108 kindergartners,” Brecheen said. “Ninety-eight percent of our students in Oklahoma are in a full-day kindergarten class.”

Brecheen said those statistics show parents and teachers want full-day kindergarten.

“When I look at those statistics, it tells me it’s definitely the parents’ choice — they want full-day,” she said. “When you visit with teachers trying to prepare kids to be ready for first grade, they prefer full-day, too.”

Brecheen said research shows kindergartners are more successful at remediation than older students.

For example, Brecheen said, it’s better to try to teach a kindergartner what he or she doesn’t know about phonics, pre-reading skills and linguistic awareness than to try and take a 10-year-old back to kindergarten.

“Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association said, ‘Attempting to repair reading skills in fourth grade is far more expensive and risky than guaranteeing good reading skills in kindergarten,’” Brecheen said. “And that is absolutely true, because research will tell you that it takes 80 to 90 minutes per day for the average child to learn to read well. It takes more than that for children who are having some difficulties.”

Brecheen said children come into kindergarten at different levels of pre-reading skills, and full-day school gives the teacher time to close the achievement gaps.

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.

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