Fourteen Tri-City elementary schools will add full-day kindergarten this fall as the state seeks to get hundreds of students more time in the classroom.
Kennewick’s Lincoln, Cascade, Southgate and Sunset View elementary schools will have three or more sections of full-day kindergarten when classes start on Sept. 1.
The Pasco School District will add full-day programs at every elementary school with a kindergarten program.
The Richland School Board decided earlier this year to have full-day kindergarten at all its schools beginning this fall but the state will pay for it at most buildings. In all, they will offer 41 kindergarten classes.
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The Legislature’s increase in funding for full-day kindergarten follows other efforts, including creating more slots in the state’s low-income preschool program, required by the state Supreme Court’s order to boost support for basic education.
Schools in those three districts and others in the Mid-Columbia that offered full-day kindergarten also will continue to do so this year.
District officials said the transition doesn’t come without challenges and anxiety for some parents but evidence shows kindergartners are benefiting from longer school days.
“I’m thrilled with where we are,” Richland Assistant Superintendent Mike Hansen told the Herald. “Full-day kindergarten is just a step in the right direction to get kids involved in school earlier.”
Nearly three out of four eligible kindergarten students across the state will now have access to a full-day program, compared to less than half during the 2014-15 school year.
“Setting students up with a solid foundation in kindergarten helps them as they move through school,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said in a release. “State funding of full-day kindergarten is an important part of basic education.”
The Kennewick School Board voted in the spring to prepare for full-day kindergarten at the four newly funded schools in anticipation of the state providing the money for it. That involved going out to hire some new teachers but, more importantly, finding the room to accommodate students who will need a classroom all day rather than just a morning or afternoon.
“Space was the most challenging issue,” said Kennewick Assistant Superintendent Greg Fancher. The district ended up dismantling computer labs to free up rooms and giving schools laptops on carts instead. Programs also were consolidated or moved to other facilities.
Fancher said they looked at buying portable classrooms but there is so much demand for those that none would be available until January.
Richland administrators were in a better position, as the district had considered full-day kindergarten demands when redrawing attendance boundaries a year ago.
Three new buildings also will open this fall, two of them being larger replacements of older schools. The board decided to provide full-day programs at the beginning of 2015, allowing the district to get a jump on hiring and training about a dozen new teachers.
“The board decision back in January was really forward-thinking,” Hansen said.
The transition hasn’t been easy on all parents. Hansen said he received a handful of emails after the board’s January vote from parents who didn’t want their soon-to-be kindergartner in school all day.
Each district has responded to parent concerns and requests differently.
Richland will allow parents to pick up their kindergartners half-way through the school day if they want to but won’t maintain any stand-alone half-day programs.
Pasco, which also is opening two new elementary schools this fall, will offer half-day kindergarten programs for parents who are willing to pick up their children at midday because no bus service will be provided then.
And Kennewick will allow half days during the first week of school if requested or parents can transfer their child to the only remaining in-district half-day programs at Cottonwood and Ridge View elementary schools.
“Typically once kids see their friends attending all day, they want to, too,” Fancher said.