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Dinner aims to provide kindergarten scholarships

The interest to help raise money to supply scholarships for students to attend the Enumclaw School District’s fee-based full-day kindergarten program has been overwhelming.

A meeting to help organize a fundraising dinner and auction April 8 drew more than 30 people. More than 70 in all, most community members and parents, have responded to join the effort.

“I’m so excited. I can’t tell you,” said Nancy Merrill. She and parent Dianna Perry are serving as cheerleaders.

Merrill is excited because so many have stepped forward to get the program off the ground in such a short time.

In 2003, Enumclaw started free full-day kindergarten using state voter-approved Initiative 728 funds and continued with annual grade-level instruction as students moved through the system. Cuts in I-728 funding have forced the district to move back to a half-day program, which is funded by the state basic education dollars, and a fee-based full-day program.

The district currently has 71 students signed up for full-day kindergarten. A minimum of 20, maximum 23, is needed to fill a classroom. The first classes will be offered at Westwood and Sunrise elementary schools, however, any building that registers 20 full-time students will be awarded a classroom.

The cost is $2,500 for 10 months, September through June, or $250 a month.

As the Enumclaw School Board president, Merrill said a number of people approached her with concerns and asked if there was a way to raise money.

When Scott Megargle of White Linen Catering offered to host a dinner for 300, the group was off and running.

The first “All Children – All Day, Let’s Find A Way” banquet will take place from 5 to 8:30 p.m. May 3 at the White River Amphitheatre River Lodge.

Part dinner, part auction, tickets are available for $25. Darla Wood-Walters, who has been the consultant for Enumclaw’s program, will be the guest speaker.

Raising the $500,000 it would take to restore the program seems a bit daunting, but the group would like to raise enough to fund or secure 20 to 30 full-day kindergarten scholarships, approximately $75,000, to try and close the gap for the most vulnerable children – those that need and benefit most from the full day experience and transition to learning readiness for first grade, but who are least likely to be able to pay for full day.

Important because the district built its elementary school curriculum around the higher level of readiness now experienced in first grade as a result of having full-day kindergarten for everyone.

“After six years of this project, we have had to put aside curriculum that is too basic for our students,” Kibler Elementary School first-grade teacher Julie McGrath said. “We have been able to offer curriculum that previously was not put into place until second grade. Our students are ready to learn and they are successful in reaching higher in their academics because of the extra time that all of them have been allowed to be in school.”

According to statistics supplied by Merrill, 30 percent of the 280 incoming kindergartners in Enumclaw will be English language learners or living in poverty and unable to afford the district’s full-day kindergarten tuition. Scholalrships will bridge the gap.

“If the percentage of students who are not ready to learn (reading, writing at grade level) by first grade increases significantly, we’ve lost what we’ve been striving to build,” Merrill said. Identifying the potential qualifiying students and creating the application and screening will be the district’s responsibility.

The group, which includes a steering committee of Mike Nelson, Kathy Lockyer, Perry, Megargle and Vikki Gramann, is working under the umbrella of the Enumclaw Schools Foundation, which itself operates under the Chamber’s Enumclaw Community Enhancement Foundation, for its non-profit status.

Planning has been fast and furious, because the group is working under the gun.

The district is required to make staffing alignment reductions by May 15. Scholarships secured by May 11 allow the district time to make those decisions. There is also a Mexican fiesta community dinner in the works, and grant applications going out, but details are not available yet.

Westwood Elementary School’s Fran Watt is organizing a community-wide Tupperware party to raise money for the effort.

School officials are also trying to get leaders from Olympia out to view the program in hopes of restoring funding.

For more information contact Merrill at 360-825-4476, nancyannmerrill@gmail.com or Perry, 360-886-8104, fulldayk@gmail.com.

Reach Brenda Sexton at bsexton@courierherald.com or 360-802-8206.

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