If you want smarter high school graduates, you’d better start feeding students bigger doses of reading, writing, math and even coloring right from the start, Tacoma school officials believe.
So starting this fall, free all-day kindergarten will be on the menu at every public school in the city.
The School Board unanimously approved the plan Thursday night.
It will cost around $3 million in added teachers’ salaries, learning materials, training and facilities changes during the next school year.
It’s an investment board members and administrators believe will pay huge dividends.
“I can’t wait! I can’t wait!” said board member Kim Golding, sounding like an excited child, before the board unanimously approved the program.
“To give Tacoma all-day kindergarten is a huge gift,” she said. “I think it’s about time.”
There are about 2,400 kindergartners in Tacoma schools this year. The district operates 54 traditional half-day kindergarten classes at schools across the city. Forty-nine full-day kindergarten classes are offered at no charge in high-poverty areas. And there are 15 tuition-based all-day classes for which parents pay a sliding-scale fee.
Kids who start their school careers with a full day of learning do better in the long run, assistant superintendent Michael Power told the School Board.
It’s “a very consistent finding” in numerous studies dating back more than 20 years, he said.
They show that students in all-day kindergarten “progress further academically” than the 5-to-6-year-olds who attend class for only half a day, Power said.
And because many of the tasks now done in half-day classes won’t be duplicated, kids will get more than double the instructional time. How and what young children are taught will be “age appropriate,” Power stressed.
“We’re not talking about them sitting around and doing fractions all day,” he said. “We’re talking about them doing kindergarten things deeper and richer.”
Already, kindergartners work on reading, writing, math, science and social skills, Power said. Expanding the day will not only give kids more time to soak up lessons in those subjects, but also will give teachers more time to get to know their students and help them learn, Power said.
It also will give kids more time to develop and work on the social skills they’ll need in school and in life, he added.
“I love full-day kindergarten,” said Jennifer Cooper, a teacher at Lister Elementary School in Tacoma. “The benefits are so great.”
She showed board members pictures drawn by her students and accompanied by their early writing skills. Having whole class days is beneficial to helping kids learn to express themselves, she said.
“The benefits of having the all-day program are just phenomenal,” she added, showing the board the work of one child who is just learning English.
“His writing has just taken off,” Cooper said.
Expanding the district’s all-day kindergarten program will require the addition of 35 teachers at a cost of about $2.6 million, Power said. It will also take about $40,000 in reading and writing materials, $37,000 in math materials and $30,000 in science curriculum costs. Training costs will be about $60,000, and building changes add up to about $100,000.
Power said a team of kindergarten teachers, principals, parents, curriculum workers and technology staffers will be created immediately. The district will begin notifying parents as early as today.
School Board members were pleased with the report from their staff and eager to get the program under way. Board member Kurt Miller wanted to make sure the district could afford the program.
Interim Superintendent Art Jarvis said the finances were worked out and pointed out that the plan is part of the district’s efforts to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act by improving student performance.
“Yes, this one is expensive,” he said.
Then he added, “This is, I believe, one of the absolute best steps we can take.”
“It’s literally changing the world,” he added.
Now, Jarvis and others said, the challenge is to take what kids learn during all those full days of kindergarten and build it on it grade by grade until graduation.
Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659