Photo by Brian Ray
Soda Creek Elementary kindergarten teacher Georgia Reust, right, gives handouts to Lauren Ehrlich, left, and her other students as class is dismissed on Thursday morning.
Steamboat Springs Parents and community members resoundingly support full-day kindergarten in Steamboat Springs, and most are willing to pay for it.
Results from a recent Steamboat Springs School District survey confirm what has been voiced at crowded Steamboat Springs School Board meetings for months: local parents want a full day of learning for their kindergartners. The survey netted 412 respondents, including 166 parents of children who would be eligible for full-day kindergarten in the 2008-09 school year. Of those parents, 143 said they would be interested in a tuition-based program starting in August. One hundred and fifty said they prefer a full-day program to a half-day program.
"Overwhelmingly, my families are for all-day kindergarten," Audrey Zwak, director of the Heritage Park Preschool, told the School Board on Monday. "There's absolutely no care in town for half a day. : We are losing young, professional families at an alarming rate."
The full-day kindergarten issue is about more than child care. Numerous parents, national and state education officials, Colorado legislators and Gov. Bill Ritter are increasingly citing the importance of full-day kindergarten to a child's academic growth and social development.
Steamboat resident Beth Wilhelm, who described herself as a working mother of a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, said much of a half-day class is spent in transition, not learning.
"To me, I don't understand what the point is of 2 1/2-hour kindergarten," Wilhelm said. Children "need the stimulation. They want the stimulation. : To not have full-day kindergarten is crazy."
Little state help
Dale Mellor, the school district's finance director, said full-day kindergarten was discussed at a meeting of a Colorado Department of Education financial committee last week.
"Right now, the state is looking at putting $25 million into full-day K," Mellor said, referring to proposed legislation at the Capitol. Ritter included increased funding for full-day kindergarten in an education reform package announced in December 2007.
But Mellor said even if additional dollars are approved, he expects Steamboat to get very little of that money in comparison to school districts in the Denver and Boulder areas.
"I believe most of that funding would go to Front Range schools with higher at-risk populations," he said. "Steamboat doesn't have a huge at-risk population."
Steamboat's interim superintendent, Sandra Smyser, also said there is little academic need for full-day kindergarten in Steamboat.
"By the time our students get to third grade, they're doing great," Smyser said Monday, citing standardized test scores. "I would not see a vast urgency to implement (full-day kindergarten) because our children are struggling. I don't get that sense from our first-grade teachers or third-grade scores."
Monday night, the School Board voted to begin tuition-based, full-day kindergarten for at least some students in August and accommodate all students by the 2009-10 school year, if not sooner. Logistics such as tuition rates, classroom space and how many students to initially enroll have yet to be decided.
Parents interested in enrolling their kindergarteners in the city's after-school program will likely have to wait until 2009.
Susan Petersen, recreation supervisor for the city's Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department, said after-school programs are already packed.
"We're at capacity at the Igloo right now," Petersen said of the Howelsen Parkway site. "We're not looking to expand our program until January of 2009, when we move into (the new) Soda Creek Elementary."