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Extended-day kindergarten making strides

Extended-day kindergarten is helping the most at-risk students in that age group get ready for first-grade at an accelerated pace, and successfully preparing those students for life at the elementary school level, according to a report given by Early Childhood Center teachers and staff at the West Fargo School Board meeting on Monday night.

Now in its second year, extended-day class teachers and ECC principal Betty Hanson told the Board that the program is making progress, especially with students who were on the back end of the curve coming into their first year of organized education.

We do believe that this program is making a difference in these kids lives, Hanson said. It has definitely been worth it to have them in class for longer days.

The extended-day program, which in 2004-2005 targeted the neediest 30 out of 400 students according to Hanson, starts in November and runs through May. The late start allows ECC staff to select the students who most need the program.

It has had solid results. Hanson said of the 30 kids, eight moved out of the West Fargo School district, leaving 22 kids in the program. Of those 22, 12 were average or above average in their writing skills, with most coming to school with little or no writing experience. Fifteen of the students were expected to complete this school year, their first-grade year, reaching or exceeding the first grade reading level. And just five of the 22 students that utilized the program are projected to need continued support through remedial reading or special education.

Nine of the students in the first extended-day class, taught by ECC teacher Staci Schmitz, are at or above their expected level in first grade with no additional intervention needed.

Hanson and Schmitz also reported higher math scores for those involved in extended-day last year, and an overall improved future for education with these students.

This year, 60 kids have been selected for three extended-day classes, with Jodi Burtsfield taking on one group. There have also been 25 students selected for a kindergarten English Language Learners program, which ECC teacher Jerene Redfield and ELL coordinator Carrie Whipple said has been very beneficial to students coming to the District that are speaking little or no English.

Its been very rewarding for me, Redfield said. We have many different cultures and nationalities coming into our District at this level. To me, the uncertainty about this early intervention is gone. Its a program that does a lot of good.

Whipple said guided reading and individual time with these students has put them on a faster track to success at the elementary level, much like the regular extended-day program does for traditional students who are just struggling to meet reading, writing and math standards.

The report comes on the heels of a new request by some state legislators for all-day kindergarten funding on the state level. Currently, the West Fargo School District funds its extended-day program with general fund dollars, as do the other 116 schools across the state that offer some sort of full-day program. The State of North Dakota does not mandate kindergarten at all. It does provide funding, but its up to local school boards at to whether the District wishes to offer full-day or half-day programs, or some sort of combination of the two.

All-day kindergarten has become a very hot topic, Schmitz said. I think this program shows that its important to have all-day programs in West Fargo, and in North Dakota. This is something that the North Dakota Kindergarten Association is really pushing hard for.

Schmitz pointed to a letter written on behalf of the NDKA to the state legislature and interim education committee chair Layton Freborg that was composed by Amy Neal, president of the organization and a former West Fargo teacher.

Teachers and students do not have enough time to complete the standards (of core educational curriculum) at an appropriate pace. The standards are appropriate, the time is not, Neal, now a kindergarten teacher in Minot, stated in her letter. A child can no longer walk into a first grade classroom without kindergarten preparation skills. It is safe to say that all children need to attend. The basic skills taught 15-20 years ago in first grade are now the basic skills introduced and taught in kindergarten.

Backers say all-day programs would cost the state about $7 million per biennium; something they say would ultimately pay for itself thanks to less money spent on remedial classes and special programs like Reading Recovery.