November 17, 2006

Question of the Day ; Gorham Considers Cost, Benefit of All-Day Kindergarten

By JUSTIN ELLIS Staff Writer

A half-day of school may become a thing of the past for youngsters here, as the School Committee considers switching to all- day kindergarten.

Gorham would join a growing number of schools around Maine and across the country by establishing full-day kindergarten. Educators say the move could boost literacy and other skills in young children and help socialize them for later grades. But some parents worry that a longer schedule could prove overwhelming to young students.

The School Committee plans to examine all of those issues before voting on a proposal in the next several months.

Any potential change for students and parents would be years away. The district is considering 2010 as the year for the switch.

Gorham now offers half-day kindergarten at Narragansett Elementary and White Rock Elementary.

There are 187 students in kindergarten, and the district projects that number to rise to 210 by the 2008-09 school year.

"We get asked about (all-day kindergarten) every spring," said Brad Smith, principal of Narragansett Elementary. Smith said many parents already have their children in daylong preschool or day care programs.

A recent report put together by a committee of parents, teachers and administrators recommended that the district transition to an all-day kindergarten program when a new elementary school is built in Gorham.

Aging White Rock Elementary is on the state's school construction list, and district officials hope to have a new school built by 2010.

The report estimates that the price of creating an all-day program, with new teachers, educational technicians and supplies, would be $495,000.

Over 10 months, the group toured kindergarten programs in other districts, studied national research and surveyed parents of incoming kindergarten students.

It found that 76 percent of parents preferred all-day kindergarten, while 24 percent preferred a half-day program.

Carla LaFerriere said she cherishes having her children at home and doesn't understand the need for all-day kindergarten. LaFerriere said she doesn't think that her daughter, now a second-grader, was unprepared for first grade because she had half-day kindergarten sessions.

LaFerriere said she understands why some people would want their children in full-day programs but thinks it needs to be optional.

"I'm just not into pushing them out the door as quickly as we can," she said.

According to the committee's report, 26 percent of kindergarten programs in Maine ran all day in the 1999-2000 school year. By 2004- 05, that number had jumped to 68 percent. Nationally, 60 percent of school districts had all-day kindergarten in 2000.

The Gray-New Gloucester schools are in their second year of all- day kindergarten. Terry Towle, director of operations and finance, said the district spent more than $168,000, adding three teachers and classroom supplies to Memorial and Russell elementary schools. The district slightly reduced its busing costs by eliminating midday buses, he said.

Margaret Evans, principal of White Rock Elementary, said research shows that all-day programs better prepare students for the early grades, but by third grade there is no difference between students who were in half-day programs and those who attended full-day sessions.

"I think there are a lot of kids who would benefit from being at school all day," Evans said.

She said an all-day program may not be good for all learning levels, but it's a good option overall.

"They'll have a blend of academics, social and creative play in the school day," Evans said.

Anne Bachner, whose son is now in first grade, said she sees both benefits and drawbacks to all-day classes. Bachner, a former teacher who was on the committee, said she worries that an all-day program would mean an increase in curriculum for young students.

But Bachner said a full day also gives teachers more time to get to know students, as well as their families.

"Selfishly, as a mom, knowing it's their last half-day (session) before going to school all day for 18 years, you want to spend time with them," she said.

Staff Writer Justin Ellis can be contacted at 791-6380 or

[email protected]

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