Dr. Seuss' "Hop on Pop" is one of Robert Fabun's favorite books to read. The 6-year-old participates in full-day kindergarten at Agnes Baptist School, where students have twice as much time as most of their counterparts to digest, practice and make learning their own.
The Stanislaus Union School District started offering full-day kindergarten this year. It's the only full-day kindergarten in Modesto public schools. Most county districts offer half-days, but some are looking at expanding their classes by an hour or two. Stanislaus Union had the space, the funding, and support from teachers and parents to implement the full-day program, which they hope will make students more successful.
"Public education is much better at prevention than we are at intervention or remediation," said district Superintendent Wayne Brown. "It makes a huge difference when we can give them the skills upfront."
As kindergarten becomes more rigorous, teachers and administrators recognize the need to offer a full-day program so students don't fall behind. Instead of the state minimum half-day, which is about three hours of instruction, full- or all-day kindergarten students attend for six hours.
Kindergarten used to be solely about helping children make the transition from home to school. In addition to that social function, kindergarten is taken to a higher academic level now than just a decade ago. Students are required to learn pre-algebra and geometry elements and demonstrate simple reading ability.
Research shows several academic and social benefits of full-day kindergarten programs, but some conclude the value does not justify the cost. Districts usually lack the funding and space to offer full-day programs.
Stanislaus Union teachers spend the morning hours on math and English. When class starts, students sign in, learning to identify or write their names, said Michele Wolf, district director of pupil services. After some calendar and counting exercises, students move to small-group reading. When they return from lunch, students are read to, then work on less-structured lessons that might cover science, his-tory, art, music or physical education, Wolf said.
Reaction to the move from half- to full-day was mostly positive, said Wolf and teachers union President Sheila Marable. A few parents and students weren't ready for a full day, so some could leave at lunchtime. But after a few months, all students are on the same schedule. Sixteen of 18 kindergarten classes operate for a full day this year; all 18 will do so next school year.
"Kindergarten teachers now have the time for some of the fun things," said Marable, who teaches a combination first- and second-grade class at Agnes Baptist.
Despite looming budget cuts from the state for 2008-09, Stanislaus Union officials said they intend to keep the full-day program. With healthy reserve accounts, Stanislaus Union doesn't expect to make the drastic budget cuts that other county districts are looking at for 2008-09, but may have to for 2009-10.
The additional cost comes from placing an instructional aide in each class half the day. That allows the teacher and aide to work with separate groups of students. Even more kindergartners work individually.
Teachers have the same salaries and workload, said Susie Leslie, director of curriculum and instruction. Half-day teachers stayed on campus during the earlier or later class to help those teachers.
Instructional aides cost about $187,000 this year.
There are some cost savings when kindergarten hours are expanded. For example, all Agnes Baptist students are bused to and from school with one loop, instead of two extra routes to take kindergartners home after the morning and afternoon sessions.
Stanislaus Union pulls 13 kindergartners from other districts for the full-day program.
Though declining student enrollment is devastating many valley districts' budgets, Wolf said she hasn't received many calls from other districts upset at the transfers.
Also, Stanislaus Union has transferred more kindergartners -- 24 -- out of the district.
For more information about Stanislaus Union's full-day kindergarten program, call 529-9546, ext. 1250.