11:45 a.m. PDT September 8, 2015
Every September, Salem-Keizer residents young and not so young acknowledge, celebrate or maybe even dread the start of the new school year.
Children are eager to be students once more, or they mourn the death of summer. Commuters get frustrated with the increased traffic and safety precautions, and parents are filled with every emotion from exhaustion to excitement, nervousness to pride.
But the 2015-16 school year will have something completely new.
Full-day kindergarten is now funded statewide, and education experts, district administrators, parents and teachers alike agree that this will bring about many changes, overwhelmingly for the better.
The push for full-day kindergarten in Oregon formally began in 2009 when it was presented to the Oregon Senate. It finally got the go-ahead this year when the Legislature passed an education budget that included funding for all-day kindergarten.
The nearly $7.4 billion budget agreement took place just two months into the 2015 legislative session, the earliest an education budget has passed in more than 20 years. It included $200 million for full-day kindergarten.
Kara Williams is the coordinator for pre-kindergarten through third-grade education in the Oregon Department of Education. She said there is substantial research-based evidence that shows the benefits of full-day kindergarten.
Benefits include such things as the alignment of young students’ academic tracks. By having full-day kindergarten, teachers are better able to cater the curriculum to fit the needs and interests of their students and can make the approach, curriculum, goals and information consistent over the course of many years. This stability and consistency are helpful for the students’ long-term success, Williams said.
She said this alignment helps improve literacy and math in particular, which helps students reach the reading level for their age by third grade. She said reaching that goal is a key indicator of the student’s future success.
Full-day kindergarten improves attendance, too, Williams said.
“Kindergarten is taken more seriously,” she said. “There is more time for the students to interact with their peers and teachers, which increases their interpersonal skills.”
She said the additional time in full-day kindergarten allows teachers to build stronger relationships with the students. Rather than seeing 25 or more students in the morning and another 25 in the afternoon, teachers will now get a better chance of developing a more meaningful connection with the students they teach.
Williams said that these deeper relationships allow teachers to better cater the curriculum, but they also help teachers identify learning problems earlier on.
“A half-day is too short,” she said. “There is little time to actually learn.”
Crystal Greene, communications director for the Oregon Department of Education, said some parents might not think their kids are ready. However, parents often find that their children want to stay the full day with their friends. She said they are usually having fun learning and don’t want to go home yet.
“They find that maybe they were ready,” Greene said. “This isn’t just an important transition for kids, but also for parents.”
School districts have always had the option to offer full-day kindergarten, and the new state budget provides funding to do so. Previously, some schools had to charge tuition to supplement their kindergarten budgets, Greene said, possibly giving students from affluent families an advantage while leaving others behind.
Children are still not required to attend kindergarten.
The funding will go toward countless aspects of full-day kindergarten from the cost of schools having to implement such a program, additional teachers, space and materials, and more.
“(We) are in the business of educating the world’s children, and districts were working to do that even before this funding was put into place,” Greene said.
James Lippincott’s daughter, Fiona, 5, has always been eager to learn. Lippincott and his wife, Katherine, enrolled Fiona in school at the early age of 2 because they believed she was ready.
“She was craving it,” he said. “She just loves learning.”
Lippincott said Fiona is very excited to start her first formal year of public kindergarten. She had been enrolled in a private half-day program.
“We were really glad it went to full-day,” he said. “We are excited that she will have a more in-depth learning experience.”
Lippincott said full-day kindergarten provides an opportunity for Katherine, a stay-at-home mother, to go back to work, knowing that Fiona has a safe place to be during the day.
For some families, this is a significant benefit. Full-day kindergarten will allow parents who work long hours or multiple jobs a few more hours a day while their children are in school.
But with the benefits of the new program also come some challenges for Oregon schools, primarily the issue of space.
Salem-Keizer Superintendent Christy Perry said full-day kindergarten is already having an immediate impact on the district.
“As we’ve implemented full-day kindergarten, we’ve immediately (had) some fairly crowded buildings on the east side,” she said in a previous interview with the Statesman Journal Editorial Board. “We have to begin to look at facilities and ask, ‘What does it mean for facilities in the coming years?’ ‘What is our enrollment growth going to look like?’”
As there is already a lack of space in the 65 Salem-Keizer schools, all-day kindergarten poses another need for space.
This summer, to prepare for the change, the district had to move about 11 elementary schools’ worth of supplies.
In other words, “If you picked up an elementary school and every classroom, packed up their stuff and moved it, that’s how much stuff and things we’ve moved this year,” Perry said.
This movement was not solely for full-day kindergarten preparation but finding space for the full-day kindergartners was a large reason for moving things around.
Nonetheless, Perry said, the challenges come with the many benefits.
Even Gov. Kate Brown is celebrating full-day kindergarten. She’s scheduled to visit Nancy Ryles Elementary School in Beaverton on Tuesday, Sept. 8, greeting students as they arrive and kicking off the first school year of all-day kindergarten statewide.
“For the first time in Oregon’s history, we are fully funding the full day of school for this year’s incoming kindergartners,” Brown said in a statement. “This investment expands the opportunity for our children to be successful throughout their educational journey.”