Full-Day Kindergarten Gets Good Grades In Oak Park
Early endorsements from teachers, parents bolster new program.
The full-day kindergarten program in Oak Park Elementary District 97 is being hailed as an early success, with parents and faculty from the district's eight elementary schools giving the program glowing reviews.
School Board members, however, are reserving their praise for the program, which was implemented at all eight schools last year, until more time passes and academic performance stats can be measured.
Elementary schools Beye, Irving, Longfellow and Whittier inaugurated the full-day kindergarten program in the district during the 2008-2009 school year; the other four elementary schools joined last year.
At Tuesday night's School Board meeting, District 97 Supt. Al Roberts threw his support behind the new program, saying he hoped the new all-day kindergarten could address some learning issues early on and prevent them from growing in later years.
"If working with kids at a younger age it avoids some future remediation, it becomes both an educational and financial benefit," Roberts said.
Flanked by four kindergarten teachers, Kevin Anderson, the district's assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, led a presentation reviewing the first year of the program.
Anderson said the additional state aid used to cover the program was bringing in more money than it was costing the district — money collected from the state for the past two years, and anticipated for this year, totals $4.6 million, well above the $3.3 million in salary and benefit costs to fund the program through this year.
Future hiring is expected to make the overall budget total about even, Anderson added.
"It's not a drain on the budget, and we are really benefiting from full-day kindergartens," he said.
Kindergarten teachers at the meeting echoed the support. They said they now have more time to do in-depth lessons and that students were more comfortable spending more time in the classroom each day.
"We were using a full-day curriculum and trying to fit it into a half-day kindergarten," said Julie Bernstein, a kindergarten teacher at Holmes Elementary School. "I feel like now we all have the chance to relax and breathe, and do what we should be doing in kindergarten."
Other teachers spoke of having more time to create additional activities to support books read in class, as well as greater freedom for math and science projects.
The presentation also included quotes from 1st-grade teachers and parents that said students that were in a full-day program were more prepared for the start of the school year in 1st grade and were more ready for academic areas such as reading and math.
Some initial numbers were taken to compare full-day students with half-day students on a standardized test, but without much significant variance, Anderson said.
That was a point some board members wanted clarified looking ahead.
"We want to be able to see some positive statistical impact as well," said board member Rance Clouser.