Making the Grade: An Idaho school district invests in kindergarten

Posted at 10:50 PM, Nov 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-12 00:50:25-05

Leaders in one Treasure Valley school district think they have the answer to student success and it starts with their youngest pupils. This year, for the first time, kindergartners in Kuna attend school all day, every day.  

Administrators needed to make a bold change. For years, test scores remained stagnant.  The district used state money to hire paraprofessionals to try and boost learning through small groups and one-on-one attention, but the test numbers didn't budge.

“The superintendent had a vision that said if we intervene at a younger age, we make a bigger impact at a younger age, we believe things will be different throughout the district,” says Kuna’s Communication Manager David Reinhart.

Studies prove the first few years of school are critical to successful learning later.  Reed Elementary kindergarten teacher Alyssa Townsend believes this format gives her students time to develop in a more relaxed environment.

“All kindergarten curriculums are made for all day every day. In the past, you have the stress of making sure everything gets done to meet their academic needs. Now we are able to still do what we've done in the past, but add more social skills in,” says Townsend.

Chelsea Briner’s daughter Alice is part of Ms. Townsend’s class. At first, she wondered how Alice would handle being at school all day.  She quickly found her five-year-old thriving.

“I think it’s that routine that helps them develop so well whether its academically or socially. I come in and do centers every week and I know my job and they know their job and we just do them and it just runs. They know what's expected of them every single day,” says Briner.

Last spring, when Kuna first introduced the idea of full-day kindergarten, it was optional.  But when only ten families out of about five hundred opted out, the Superintendent changed the format at all six elementary schools. Parents also don't pay a dime for the program.

Many school districts offer families the chance to send their children to all-day kindergarten, but it's tuition based. Kuna leaders say that system, which they tried, only perpetuated problems because families that couldn't afford full-day kindergarten, many times had children who needed the early intervention. 

“I would say the feedback at this point has been absolutely positive. I cannot think of a single phone call that I've taken or anyone in the district has taken with anybody angry about this. This is a good thing for kids,” says Reinhart

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