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Going All Out for Full-Day Kindergarten

Some of the students in Sandie Schneider’s kindergarten class practiced the letter “T,” while others flipped through books just before they lined up at 11:30 a.m. for lunch on Friday.

Normally, kindergarteners at Sully Elementary School would have been heading home, but not this year.

Schneider’s 17 students and another 18 students in Andria Donnelly’s class are attending the first sessions of the district’s full-day kindergarten program. Another 40 students at the Sterling school are in the traditional morning and afternoon kindergarten sessions.

“The kids feel more involved in the school. They eat lunch with the big kids. They have [physical education] every day,” said Principal Eric Stewart.

The School Board implemented the kindergarten program this year as a pilot project, selecting Sully as the first school site. Space became available at the school when nearby Forest Grove Elementary School opened Aug. 26. Students from that school and from Guilford, Rolling Ridge and Sterling elementary schools who participated in a preschool program the year before were targeted for the kindergarten class. They had attended preschool-kindergarten for special education students, Head Start for at-risk students and Striving for Excellence in Preschool (STEP), an income-based preschool program.

KINDERGARTEN TEACHERS received three days of training this summer to teach the full-day curriculum, which is similar to the half-day curriculum. A full day gives teachers more time to work with students on basic reading, writing and mathematics skills and allows for more small group learning activities.

"I feel like I can progress them further along and get to know each child better," Schneider said, adding that with the extra time, she can devote one hour a day to literacy skills. Her goal is to have her students reading by the time they enter first grade, she said.

"I learned my letters," said Sussie Prem, 5, a full-day kindergartner in Schneider’s class. “I like it, playing computers and puzzles and eating in the cafeteria."

Five-year-old Cody Wooten said he is learning to write and likes reading. "I just like school," he said.

"The full-day kindergarten has proven to give kids an extra jump for their school careers," Stewart said, adding that the program is aimed to improve student achievement. "You can do a lot more in a full day than you can in a half day."

THE SCHOOL BOARD plans to expand the program next year if it proves successful this year and the funding is available. The program will be assessed through teacher comments, anecdotal notes and the results of the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS), a test on the letters of the alphabet and phonetic, reading and mathematical skills.

"The investment made now will save a lot of time in the future," said School Board Chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles). "We're trying to get them early in their age to give them additional instruction."