Original URL:  http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/0917edkindergarten17.html

Which kindergarten is right?

Child's needs factor into full, half days

The Arizona Republic
Sept. 17, 2003 12:00 AM

Katy Scott
Lisa Le and Cheryl Phillips are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to how much school time is right for their 5-year-olds.

Every day, Le packs up son Christopher and heads from their Chandler home to Tempe. A few miles away, Phillips heads from Mesa to Gilbert with little Alexxis.

Both moms are willing to make the longer trek for what they see as the best education for their kindergartner, but their choice of schools is very different.

Christopher is in a full-day kindergarten program; Alexxis takes a two-hour, 40-minute half-day program.

Phillips said half-day kindergarten eases kids into school, especially children like Alexxis, who didn't attend preschool. But Le thinks Rover Elementary's full-day program offers Christopher a good transition.

Although the state doesn't fund full-day kindergarten in its public schools, most major Valley districts offer it, often at a fee.

Tough argument

And while some say full-day kindergarten is the best approach for all children, other educators claim some kids benefit more from less school time.

"It depends so much on the child and what they need and their attention span," said Debbie Pischke, who directs Peoria Elementary's kindergarten enrichment program. "It's a real tough argument."

She said English-language learners and special-needs children can get a lot out of a full-day program because, although students don't learn anything new, they spend more time on the skills they need to master.

But she agreed that some children probably don't need a full day of class.

"If you're taking your child home after kindergarten and can give them attention and take them to the library, they're probably better off," she said.


Fewer influences


Phillips likes being able to teach Alexxis at home.

"They're not subject as much to the influences of their friends," she said of the half-day program at Edu-Prize Charter. Susan Eissinger, assistant superintendent for the Chandler Unified School District, said the primary advantage of full-day kindergarten is the extra time. With physical education, music and trips to the library, students in half-day programs sometimes have little time left for academics.

"As the (academic) standards are becoming more and more complex, we find that we're doing quite a bit of academic teaching in kindergarten," Eissinger said.

For now, one of the biggest obstacles to full-day kindergarten is money.

"You'd have to double the number of classrooms, double the number of teachers, double the number of supplies, all without extra funding," Pischke said.

That's why so many Valley districts charge students about $200 each month for full-day kindergarten. Tempe Elementary is one of the only districts that offers it free.

Terri McCoy, principal of Rover Elementary in the Tempe district, said that with so many children in preschool-like programs, it's just not necessary to ease children into school with half days anymore.

"They're coming to us ready to learn," she said. "They're ready, developmentally, for that full day."

Reach the reporter at katy.scott@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-6928.