Dear Extra Credit: I read with interest your Oct. 13 discussion ["An Open Door for One Sibling, but Not the Other?"] about allowing siblings to attend the same school, but found it disconcerting that an actual regulation exists that recognizes the specific differential learning environment across the county for kindergarten students. The regulation quoted in the article led me to believe that the county recognizes that some parents would search for ways to transfer their children from a half-day program to a full-day program.
The question that I believe is critical is: When will full-day kindergarten be available to all Fairfax students? We are proud of our base school but are convinced that a full-day kindergarten program is critical for students. I recognize that space and funds need to be available, but the reality is that the new classroom pods offer more than sufficient space for good learning, and this choice of adding pods far exceeds the loss we face with so few hours of kindergarten in our school.
Is there a plan and a specific date for all children to have access to full-day kindergarten?
County school officials say they would eventually like to have full-day kindergarten for all students, but at the moment only 67 of Fairfax County's 136 elementary schools have it. Schools with the largest portion of low-income students and students for whom English is not their first language have been given full-day kindergartens first, because research shows that those children are likely to gain the most from a longer school day.
Fairfax County school system spokesman Paul Regnier said implementing full-day programs is expensive. It requires additional teachers, instructional assistants, materials and classroom space, all of which increases the annual cost of kindergarten by about $325,000 a school, on average.
"For this reason," Regnier said, "these programs have been added incrementally over the past few years."
Regnier said he expects just a few schools a year to be converted to full-day kindergarten for the foreseeable future.
A new study scheduled to appear in the February issue of the American Journal of Education shows the effects of these changes. Federal data from a nationally representative sample of 8,000 children indicate that, on average, pupils in all-day kindergarten gain about a month in learning compared with what kindergartners achieve in half-day programs over the course of a year.
Nationally, half of all kindergartners attend full-day programs, either public or private, about the same portion as in Fairfax County. But there is still debate over whether the academic gains are worth the cost, and some parents in Northern Virginia have resisted full-day programs as unsuitable for children that young.
Regnier said, "Fairfax County is proud of its kindergarten program and knows that quality instruction for the youngest learners builds a strong foundation for success. Although we recognize that many parents would prefer the all-day program, the half-day program also provides a good foundation for learning.
"School policy does not permit parents to pupil-place their children out of their neighborhood schools in order to access all-day kindergarten, since the staffing and space available cannot accommodate the number of requests from parents."
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