News

Parents express frustration with kindergarten plan

By Brenda Sexton

The Courier-Herald

A place for everyone is what a small group of mothers is asking the Enumclaw School District to think about when it comes to placing its kindergartners in a full-time program this fall.

Four mothers and a grandmother met with school district officials in a prescheduled meeting Thursday afternoon at the district office. The group expressed a variety of concerns about the move to full-day kindergarten, the biggest of which was having another option.

The group admits many of its arguments are driven by emotion. The four at the table were just a few of Enumclaw's large stay-at-home-mom population that abandoned careers and made conscious decisions to spend extra time with their children. Full-day kindergarten, they contend, robs them of time they had anticipated - time they use for swim lessons, tumbling, story time and other family-oriented activities.

"The hurt and anger doesn't make sense, but you're stealing time I planned on," said Deanna Olney, who took time away from a teaching career to stay home with her three children. "We made sacrifices to spend time with our children."

The group also was concerned children were being pushed at pace that would not allow them to enjoy childhood.

"I want my children to be the best readers they can be, but being the best reader in class doesn't make up for that afternoon time he spends with grandpa," Olney said.

"It's rooted in emotion," said district curriculum director Chris Beals, who said the district would like the opportunity to be flexible and work with people. "We're not about to tell you what's more appropriate for your family. You know your own kids."

"The choice is there," district officials said. But each parent needs to work it out with each individual teacher and principal.

District officials are encouraging parents with concerns attend one of the four informational meetings starting at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 26 at Black Diamond and Westwood elementary schools and closing up at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 27 at Sunrise and Kibler elementary schools. Questions can also be directed to assistant superintendent Mike Nelson, foundations project director Jill Burnes, or Beals at 360-802-7109.

"We didn't take the decision lightly," Nelson told the group.

He explained the move from a traditional 2-1/2-hour program to an almost six-hour program is possible today because the district has the space, the money (I-728 funds) to hire additional staff and the training to back staff.

When Enumclaw makes the move in the fall it will be one of the few districts in the state to offer full day to all students. Many school districts, including Enumclaw, offer full-day kindergarten experiences but it costs parents extra.

"We feel in our whole hearts this could be amazing," Nelson said.

The research, the district points out, on the academic and social benefits for children in a full-day kindergarten is overwhelmingly positive. Children in full-day kindergarten exhibit more independent learning, classroom involvement, and productivity in working with peers and reflectiveness. They outperform children in half-day programs on all measure of language arts/literacy and several measures of mathematics. The district notes children in all-day kindergarten experience a greater number of positive social interactions, have higher levels of school attendance, and do not experience higher levels of fatigue than children in half-day programs.

In addition, children in full-day kindergarten are more successful with literacy instruction in first grade and are retained less often than their half-day peers.

The moms present said they would be more inclined to ease into a full-day program. Perhaps full-time for parents who wanted it or for kids who need it and then talk with first-grade teachers in a couple of years and see if they could tell the difference between half-day and full-day kindergartners. They said they would like to get their information from other parents who walk the sidelines of soccer games with them on weekends, not mothers in Pennsylvania.

Each mother said she knew she had other options with half-day private programs, which offered smaller class sizes, or becoming part of the Plateau's strong, supportive homeschool network, but most are volunteers in their children's classrooms and stand behind the district, they just want a choice for kindergarten.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com

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