Full-time learning

De’Ane Samuels goes over spelling games with her afternoon kindergarten class at Webster Elementary in Lewiston last year. Kindergarten classes will go from half day to full day in Lewiston when school resumes later this month.

Some of the youngest students in the Lewiston Independent School District will get extra time during the 2018-19 school year to hone fundamental skills that educational leaders say will be paramount to their success later on.

For the first time, the district will have all-day kindergarten in its seven elementary schools.

The switch from a half-day program has been an investment for the district, but school board President Brad Rice said he thinks the move will increase student achievement.

"It's exciting," Rice said. "There's enough additional contact time with the teacher that you can get content to sink in. It's not such a short-lived experience, so at its core, that's what it's all about: enough additional teacher time to have enough impact on those kiddos."

The longer days will give students more instructional time in core subjects, like reading. And if students grasp those concepts earlier, they're likely to do better throughout their schooling.

"For those kids to learn how to read is such a critical element of long-term success," Rice said. "The earlier you can get in front of them and start talking concepts, I think the better off they are going to be. You'll start seeing it in the numbers and student achievement."

Since Idaho only funds half-day kindergarten, the school district will foot the bill of about $350,000 to expand to the all-day program. The money, according to Assistant Superintendent Lance Hansen, will come from the district's general fund.

In preparation for the upcoming school year, the district hired two additional kindergarten teachers, bringing the total number to 15. Some teachers were transferred into open kindergarten positions, Hansen said.

Each of the seven elementary schools will have at least one kindergarten class, although some have as many as three. The number of classrooms in each school was decided based on the amount of students who enrolled.

In all, there are more than 300 students registered for kindergarten and the district is still accepting more, Hansen said.

The school board was supportive of the idea from the beginning. They didn't want to follow a tuition-based kindergarten model some other districts utilize, because they wanted to ensure all children had the opportunity to access the service.

"I know that the emphasis on early childhood learning is a critical aspect for our students in our district," Hansen said.

The school board had mulled the idea for about two years, according to Rice, but it wasn't until a year ago when the board tasked the administration to research it more fully.

Numbers provided by the Idaho State Department of Education show that more than 70 of the state's 115 school districts offered full-day kindergarten in at least one school during the 2017-18 school year. Charter schools are included in that count.

But those numbers are not complete because Idaho is a local control state, which limits the data the Idaho State Department of Education can collect from districts. Districts also vary in the way they report the numbers, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact number, according to Kelly Everitt, with the state department of education.

"Since the state only pays for half days for kindergarten students, our (Idaho System for Educational Excellence) data reporting system is not actually designed to tell us whether or not a school has full-time kindergarten," Everitt said in an email. "... Some districts don't report more than what they get paid for (half day). Others find ingenious ways to create what is functionally full-time kindergarten, such as using 21st Century Community Learning Center grants to add the extra half day as enrichment time. Or they simply eat the costs for the extra time."

Overall, for the Lewiston School District, what could have been a logistical nightmare, turned out easier than expected.

"We were in a situation where we thought it would be pretty tough to create space at one of the smaller elementary schools, but we didn't need to add another section so it negated the need for an additional classroom," Hansen said. "We dodged a bullet there."

The only schools to undergo adjustments to accommodate classes were Orchards, McGhee and McSorley, according to Hansen.

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Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2294.

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