- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Most school districts in Minnesota are now providing free all-day kindergarten for the first time this school year.

Thousands of youngsters starting kindergarten this week will be the first to try out the state’s new system, the Star Tribune reported (https://strib.mn/1A15No6 ). Roughly 54,000, or 95 percent of the state’s kindergartners, will participate, according to the state Department of Education.

Educators hope the $134 million initiative will improve early education across the state. Most kindergarten teachers are excited about spending more time with their students, especially because some children come into the classroom before knowing their ABCs or how to write their names.

“Socially, emotionally, cognitively . everything is hitting the fan at this age,” said Becky Magnuson, a longtime kindergarten teacher in the Forest Lake School District. “The time we have with them is very important.”

Studies conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota have shown that all-day kindergarten can give kids an academic boost through first and second grade, as well as providing enduring benefits to poor students, non-native English speakers and kids with special needs. State officials think the new initiative could help reverse the achievement gap between white and minority students.

“When you factor in the work we’ve done with the 0 to 3 population and our work with early learning scholarships for preschool, we feel like all-day kindergarten could really be a game changer,” said Bobbie Burnham, director of early learning services for the state Department of Education.

The extra class time will help ensure that every student is a proficient reader by third grade, Burnham said.

About half of Minnesota schools offered free full-day kindergarten previously. Others offered it at a cost of $2,000 to $4,000 a year for parents.

Renee Blue is the president of the Minnesota Kindergarten Association. She’s also a veteran kindergarten teacher at Rum River Elementary in Andover, where full-day kindergarten, half-day kindergarten and full-day programming every other day is offered. She said it was easy to tell the students apart at the end of the year based on skills.

“I really saw a huge difference in their writing samples,” Blue said. “The kids who were there every day for a full day were writing pages of words. Others weren’t.”

All-day kindergarten also helps with what Magnuson refers to as the “nest-in period,” when students learn everyday expectations like hanging coats and lining up for the bus.

“When you have the consistency of all-day kindergarten, you start to see that anxiety decrease quicker,” she said. “With half-day, I might have tears all the way to December.”


Information from: Star Tribune, https://www.startribune.com

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