Steamboat Springs In JoAnne Hilton-Gabeler's office, a pyramid of binders and folders is filled with just about every fact anyone would want to know about all-day kindergarten.
"There's so much information that it's almost difficult to know where to start," said Hilton-Gabeler, curriculum and instruction director for the Steamboat Springs School District. "But it's up to the community to say what they want out of all-day kindergarten, and so I've been narrowing it down to some options that might be easier to digest."
It is not mandatory to attend or provide kindergarten in Colorado. Steamboat's school district offers half-day kindergarten classes that begin in the morning and afternoon. There are 118 students in half-day kindergarten programs at Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools.
But that might change - Hilton-Gabeler said the community has made it "loud and clear" that implementing an all-day program should be a priority for the district.
On Nov. 2, Hilton-Gabeler presented six all-day kindergarten options to a committee of district stakeholders. There were no cost projections attached to each proposal - a cost analysis is under way - but the options sparked discussion about implementing an all-day program in Steamboat.
"I heard from the community that there's a pretty good interest in keeping some faction of the half-day kindergarten as well as implementing a full-day, which is something I didn't really know," Hilton-Gabeler said. "I'm glad that's something I found out, and that's why we have these people coming together."
More time learning
Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal Brenda Barr was one of about 20 district stakeholders - such as administrators, teachers, support staff, parents and other members of the community - to attend the preliminary meeting.
Options include four full-day classes at Soda Creek and Strawberry Park and a mix of full-day and half-day classes at district facilities. Hilton-Gabeler cautioned how an all-day program materializing could be different from all the options currently proposed.
"It's too early to see which option I prefer until we see a cost analysis," Barr said, adding that she hopes to include a Montessori-based kindergarten program.
"I know it's a change for this community, but in my previous community, there was full-day," Barr said of her time in Colorado Springs. "In addition to full-day (kindergarten), there was also half-day (preschool) for children ages three to five. They paid tuition, about $400 a month, and the full-day students paid the same amount as the half-day paid."
Tuition or other funding measures for all-day kindergarten would be needed to boost kindergarten teachers' compensation.
Steamboat Springs School Board member John DeVincentis said it's too early to determine how to fund the program. Options include the city's half-cent sales tax, which will likely go before voters for renewal next November.
"This has been a topic going back three superintendents :and it isn't something we can just throw together," DeVincentis, a former principal at Strawberry Park, said of all-day kindergarten. "We've had town meetings about this for almost 10 years or more."
DeVincentis said the benefits of all-day kindergarten for child development are clear.
"The kids who go through this program will have an advantage over those who don't," he said. "Some kids need more time learning letters and letter sounds. You increase their time at school, and they learn more."
Stephanie Howle, director of First Impressions of Routt County, said that due to the large local demand for child care, nonprofit child care providers should not worry about an all-day kindergarten program siphoning off business.
"First Impressions' mission and vision is that we want all children to have adequate resources to ensure healthy development and school readiness," she said. "We want to continue to develop a relationship - a partnership - with the school district to ensure that children are starting school ready to learn and therefore, ready for life."
Only one private business, the Discovery Learning Center, provides all-day kindergarten in Routt County. Christian Heritage School also offers a full-day kindergarten program.
DeVincentis said the School Board will not look at the interests of the child care providers when the issue of all-day kindergarten comes before the board.
"I just want to make sure it's something in the future in the community, whether that decision is made in March or not," he said. "But I'd like to think we can have this in the near future."
Hilton-Gabeler said the committee studying all-day kindergarten will meet again in December, when she hopes to present a cost analysis of options. In the mean time, she'll continue to address the litany of questions presented by implementing such a program.
"One of the issues that has not been discussed a whole lot is how children are accepted into the program," she said. "We only have a certain number of rooms and spaces, so if interest exceeds space available, we can look at a lottery."
How to serve lunch and what to do about increased traffic on the already congested Strawberry Park campus are other concerns. Hilton-Gabeler vowed to address every foreseeable issue.
"I'm going forward that we will have some kind of program in place," she said. "I'll just continue the planning so that if it is possible - if it's financially feasible for the district - then we are getting all our ducks in a row."
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