Full-day kindergarten alarms some Juneau parents

Posted: Monday, June 16, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) When kindergartner Ryan Benson came home after school, he was too tired to stay awake, his mother says.

Kymm Benson, other parents and many elementary teachers are concerned about a Juneau School District proposal to offer a longer kindergarten day next year.

Critics say a full-day program will tire children. Teachers will not offer popular mixed classes of kindergartners and first-graders if they have kindergartners all day, parents fear.

Some parents say their kindergartners would benefit from the longer day.

''The extra time with his peers will really help his progress,'' one anonymous parent commented in a school district survey.

''This is a good idea,'' another parent said. Kindergartners will ''learn responsibility sooner with this program.''

The school district wants to save money by eliminating the early afternoon buses for kindergartners. Administrators also say a full-day kindergarten can help students academically, particularly those from families that are low-income or have limited English skills.

''They are the students we are not doing as well with,'' said Charla Wright, the district's instructional services coordinator. ''The recommendation was based on that population of students.''

The state does not require children to attend kindergarten.

The administration has recommended that the school board eliminate the early buses and offer parents of kindergartners a choice of the current 4 1/2 hours of class time or a full 6-hour day of class time.

Many teachers oppose a full day for kindergartners, and they say it would be unfair and disruptive to have some children leave class early.

''The ones who leave early will come back refreshed. The ones who stay all day will get a negative attitude,'' said Riverbend Elementary teacher Mimi Walker.

Some kindergarten teachers have said they would lose the opportunity in the last 90 minutes of the day to help first-graders or to work with small groups of kindergartners who are asked to stay after class.

But Wright said that every budget decision has trade-offs. Saving money by ending the kindergarten buses, for example, could make it possible to retain full-time teachers of English as a second language.

Juneau would not be the first school district to have extended kindergarten.

The Anchorage School District started the transition to longer days in the mid-1990s. Now almost all Anchorage schools are on the 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. schedule for kindergartners, said district spokesman Roger Fiedler. That time includes recess and lunch time. Four alternative schools still have shorter days.

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