Coming this fall to the Bethel School District: three more schools with full-day kindergarten.
The district estimates it will spend about $425,000 to provide the tuition-free classes at Centennial, Rocky Ridge and Shining Mountain elementary schools.
Officials in the Spanaway-based district say they’ve read the results from the past few years at Bethel schools where full-day kindergarten already is in place, and they believe it’s helping kids. They say full-day programs are especially helpful for students who start school lacking skills they’ll need in the years to come.
“It does make a difference in school readiness, at first grade,” said Roger Samples, Bethel’s assistant superintendent for elementary schools. “They get further ahead and become more acclimated to school.”
Many state leaders have championed all-day kindergarten. Gov. Chris Gregoire made early-childhood education a priority during her two terms; before she left office last month, she proposed $1 billion in new education funding that included smaller class sizes for young children and an accelerated phase-in of full-day kindergarten to cover half the state’s kids.
Tacoma Public Schools also places a high value on all-day kindergarten, supplementing state funds with local dollars to provide it in all elementary schools.
Bethel is Pierce County’s third-largest school district and, like many other districts in the state, it receives state funding only for half-day kindergarten. Some high-poverty districts receive state dollars to provide some all-day kindergarten, but Bethel does not, Samples said.
The district has offered tuition-free full-day kindergarten at five schools that qualify for federal funding because of high poverty rates. It also offers tuition-based, full-day kindergarten at five other schools, where parents pay $250 a month to enroll their children.
The additions this fall will leave only four Bethel elementary schools without a full-day option: Kapowsin, Nelson, Clover Creek and Frederickson, district spokeswoman Krista Carlson said. She added that if money becomes available in the future, the district could support full-day kindergarten at those schools, too.
Until then, parents who want full-day classes for their kindergartners can apply to transfer to an out-of-neighborhood school, as long as there’s room. Those parents would be responsible for providing transportation for their child.
A recent report to the Bethel School Board outlined advantages for all-day kindergarten and gave a snapshot of some results from recent years.
All-day kindergarten means fewer transition times for kids and more time for in-depth instruction as well as routines that prepare kids for first grade success, the report stated.
It looked at test results for incoming Bethel kindergarten students in three groups: those in the free full-day classes, those in the tuition-based all-day classes and those in half-day classes. It also looked at test results for the same groups over time.
Students entering the free full-day classes arrive with a significantly smaller percentage meeting literacy benchmarks than do those in the tuition-paying group, the report showed. The paying students are presumed to come from more affluent homes and might also have the benefit of a more structured preschool.
The tuition-paying kids outperformed the free all-day kids by nearly double on an assessment given when they start kindergarten. By the fall of their first-grade year, however, the nonpaying kids made the biggest percentage gains. While they were still behind the paying students, the gap was narrower. They also fared slightly better than the half-day students.
Reading scores on state tests for many of these students tend to flatten out in later years. And results are mixed when it comes to math scores.
Samples said a full-day kindergarten experience can contribute to students in other ways besides the purely academic, including social and emotional gains that prepare them for their academic life.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635