Cape Elizabeth hopes to launch full-day kindergarten next year

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Pond Cove Elementary School administrators hope to institute a full day for all kindergarten students beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.

In a presentation to the School Board last week, Principal Kelly Hasson and Assistant Principal Julie Nickerson made a case for full-day kindergarten using state and national data and observations from Pond Cove’s full-day pilot program, which was instituted this year for about half the school’s kindergarten students.

“We feel the time is right for Cape, and we’re excited for the opportunity, so we look forward to the journey,” Hasson said.

Increased opportunities for structured social interactions, fewer daily transitions, more time for academic reinforcement, and daily classes in the “allied arts” – physical education, art and music – were just some of the benefits cited.

As of 2011, 77 percent of kindergarten-age children in the U.S. were attending full-day programs, up from 11 percent in 1967, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Maine, 86 percent of public schools offered full-day kindergarten programs this year.

There’s no question about demand from Cape Elizabeth parents.

More than 91 percent of this year’s incoming kindergarten class had parents or guardians who in spring 2013 selected full-day as their program of choice. And roughly 63 percent of Pond Cove’s half-day kindergarten students attend another program during the portion of the day when they’re not at school, according to the presentation.

“I was kind of hesitant when the full-day was brought up, I didn’t think we needed it,” said Amy Lombardo, whose youngest child is in the pilot full-day program. “I have to say, my husband and I have been so pleasantly surprised with how wonderful full-day actually is. My son is flourishing. He’s calm, he’s relaxed, he loves school. … I am a huge advocate of full-day now, after experiencing both (half- and full-day), and I really hope it does work out for everybody that we all can do it, and not just a select few.”

Teddy Stoecklein said he was very impressed with his daughter’s half-day class, but hopes his younger child, who will be in kindergarten next year, can attend full-day.

“It’s clear that people want full-day,” he said. “The teachers want full-day. The data shows it’s very important and very good. I think as a community, we should do everything possible to make it happen.”

The next step is for an administrative team to craft a budget proposal to present to the School Board, Superintendent Meredith Nadeau said.

A switch to full-day for all kindergarten students could require hiring teachers and an ed tech, as well as renovations, but not additions, to the Pond Cove building, the presenters said.

Nadeau estimated the transition could cost $250,000 or more, but stressed that it is too early in the process to make concrete budgetary projections.

When it was announced last spring, the pilot program had opposition from parents who decried it as unfair and objected to the lottery system that determined which students would be eligible. Some advocated voting down the school budget unless the pilot program was eliminated. They believed full-day kindergarten should be available to all students, or none, but not some.

“I think it was the proposal that was supported with the best of intentions and designed to see what was going to work locally,” Nadeau said this week. “I don’t ever presume that I make the best decisions. I think we make the decisions based on the information that is available to us and that we think is going to be in the best interest of students. And I believe we did our best to do that.” 

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.