State funds and approval of a operating levy lead to expansion of all-day program.
There will be more story time, reading, counting and matching for many 5- and 6-year-olds in Anoka-Hennepin schools next year.
The school board approved a plan last week to expand free all-day, every-day kindergarten from seven schools to 11. Plans are in the works to expand that number to 14 of the district's 24 elementary schools, which would increase the number of students in such programs from 350 to about 1,000.
Currently, most of the district's 2,600 kindergartners attend full-day programs every other day and every other Friday. The state only funds half-day programs for kindergarten.
Full-day, every-day programs are available at some schools for a fee, about $2,800 per child. Many families can't afford that, said Mary Wolverton, the district's associate superintendent for elementary schools.
District officials have been looking at research showing a correlation between third-grade reading proficiency and graduation rates and success in postsecondary schooling. It turns out that in Anoka-Hennepin, students who are proficient readers at the end of kindergarten carry that success to the end of third grade, Wolverton said.
The need for a strong kindergarten start is especially acute for students coming from poor families and for English language learners, she said. It comes down to a difference in how many words children know as they start to learn to read; those who know a lot of words in kindergarten tend to have an easier time learning to read. Children in poverty, in general, tend to start school knowing fewer words than those from families with higher incomes.
"Students living in poverty come to us with many deficits in relation to academic readiness," Wolverton said.
For that reason, the initial expansion is starting at district schools where at least 40 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. In Anoka-Hennepin, 12 schools will fit that definition in the 2012-2013 school year. Only 11 of those are getting the kindergarten expansion, because the 12th, Morris Bye Elementary School in Coon Rapids, does not have the space to double its kindergarten offerings.
Franklin Elementary School in Anoka faced the same problem, but there is a proposal to bus some Franklin kindergartners to nearby Crooked Lake Elementary for the 2012-13 year only. That also would make all-day, every-day kindergarten available to students at Crooked Lake, which has fewer students living in poverty.
The expansion will cost the district about $1.2 million. It is being funded by a state literacy financial aid grant. It also is possible, in part, Wolverton said, because of the stability gained by voters' renewal of the district's operating levy last fall.
The district also is looking at ways to expand its Kindergarten Readiness program, which offers half-day preschool for 4-year-olds, especially those from poor families, English language learners and those who receive special education services. Currently, the program is offered at three schools; the district hopes to expand it to eight. There also is a fee-based program for preschoolers who do not fit any of those categories.
"We're incredibly excited," Wolverton said. "What we are hoping for and feel very confident about is that we will be able to see increasing academic proficiency for students as they exit kindergarten. Then we will see that correlated as they go through first, second and third grade."
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409