Attending school for the first time is a huge event in the life of a 5-year-old, but this fall also will be a big change for Tri-City school officials as they transition to full-day kindergarten programs.
Traditionally, many kindergarten classes have been on a half-day schedule so youngsters can ease into the academic rigors of school. However, research from many sources over the years has pointed to the benefits of immersing kindergartners into a full-day program right away.
Studies by many educational groups, including the National Association of School Psychologists, show a full-day program helps close the achievement gap for children whose learning and social experiences have been limited. Children in full-day classes are more prepared for first-grade and their test scores are higher. A full-day program also gives teachers a chance to know their students better and provides more time to work with children who are struggling.
The state Legislature this year finally caught on to the need to provide children a better start and approved enough money to implement full-day programs throughout the state. In the 2015-16 school year, 71 percent of kindergarten students will be funded for full-day programs, and in the 2016-17 school year, 100 percent will be eligible, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
That is a terrific decision.
It’s also an expensive decision, but it’s the right one. It’s been well established that the more money that’s spent on early learning programs, the less money spent later on social services.
The OSPI report said 359 new schools in 139 school districts will be funded for full-day kindergarten. There were 31 school districts that declined funding for a variety of reasons, including no classroom space.
But that’s not the case in Pasco, Richland and Kennewick.
In the Tri-Cities, most children now will reap the benefit of a full-day kindergarten schedule. And for those parents, who for whatever reason, would prefer the half-day schedule, options are being offered.
For example, in the Richland and Pasco school districts, full-day kindergarten will be offered, but parents can pick them up at midday.
In Kennewick, the full-day kindergarten program will be offered at all schools except Ridge View and Cottonwood. Parents can ask to transfer their child to those two programs if they want a shorter day for their child.
Tri-City parents are fortunate. They can have the benefit of a full-day program for their kindergartners or opt for keeping their child home for half the day.
It’s a good compromise during this transition, but we expect that once parents see how well the full-day program works, they’ll be glad the state finally came through and provided the funding for it.