All-day kindergarten, described by officials as a key to early-childhood education that leads to better students in later years, is expanding in the Bethel School District.
The program will be added next school year to three elementary schools. District officials haven’t announced which ones, but during a meeting Jan. 24 when the School Board voted to extend all-day kindergaren, district officials said schools under consideration were Rocky Ridge, Centennial and Shining Mountain.
The cost of the additional kindergarten is expected to be about $425,000, according to the district.
Full-day kindergarten is now available at 10 of the district’s 17 elementary schools. It’s free at Thompson, Camas Prairie, Evergreen, Roy and Spanaway elementaries. Schools that offer it on a tuition basis include Graham, Elk Plain School of Choice, Naches Trail, North Star, and Pioneer Valley.
The latest action is the second the district has taken in the past year to increase kindergarten opportunities. Last March, the board approved a revised budget plan allowing free all-day kindergarten at the district’s Title I-eligible schools. Title I is a federal funding program for schools with large numbers of low-income students.
Bethel officials noted that all-day kindergarten helps prepare students for their future schooling, starting with first grade, by giving them more time for instruction in math, reading and writing. In reading alone, a higher percentage of full-day kindergarteners are at the desired level for first grade than those who are receiving less time in kindergarten.
All-day kindergarten also helps pupils develop social skills and can improve their nutrition through school breakfasts and lunches, officials said.
Bethel, which is Pierce County’s third-largest school district, emphasizes early learning before children reach kindergarten, as well. READY for Kindergarten classes for parents and caregivers of children ages 2 to 5 are scheduled for Feb. 26 at Nelson Elementary School and Feb. 28 at Thompson Elementary. The classes start at 6 p.m., following an orientation at 5:30 for people attending for the first time. Childcare and class materials are. Participants can register in advance at www.readyforkindergarten.org/bethel or by calling 253-683-6919.
The state currently provides funding for half-day kindergarten in public schools. A state Supreme Court ruling last year requires the state to cover full-day kindergarten by the 2017-18 school year.
In the current school year, state funding is sufficient for 22 percent of kindergarteners statewide, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
In a separate decision at their Jan. 24 meeting, Bethel board members approved a pilot project for middle school learning. Under the plan, seventh and eighth-grade students would have a six-period day plus an advisory class. Sixth-graders would follow a separate schedule. At least 75 percent of the students’ school day would be focused around core subjects such as humanities, math and science. Health and fitness and arts classes would also be included.
The plan, which could cost about $600,000 more than a traditional six-period class schedule, allows more time for smaller group instruction, individual interventions, extended learning and enrichment, according to district officials.