Several local school districts are gearing up for the start of new full-day prekindergarten programs.
The Gloversville, Broadalbin-Perth, Fort Plain and Amsterdam school districts received state grants to pay for full-day programs starting this school year.
The Gloversville Enlarged School District is getting more than $1 million; the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District, $596,830; Fort-Plain Central School District, $327,730; and the Greater Amsterdam School District, $935,416, according to a news release from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office.
These grants are renewable for up to five years.
The state plans to invest $1.5 billion over five years to build a statewide full-day pre-K program, the release said.
Gloversville is expanding its half-day prekindergarten program into a full-day program in the Boulevard, Kingsborough, Meco and Park Terrace elementary schools.
Gloversville will operate four full-day classrooms, serving 72 students - 18 at each of the four elementary schools. The program starts Thursday.
Area school districts have a variety of approaches to universal prekindergarten, or UPK, in which 4-year-olds, and occasionally 3-year-olds, start formal education.
The consensus of area school officials about UPK - whether half-day or full-day - is that it is beneficial to children's learning and preparation for kindergarten.
"They're remarkable little sponges," said Randy Teetz, superintendent of the Edinburg Common School District, referring to the learning ability of pre-K children.
His district has been offering half-day pre-K five days a week since 1990 because not only does it better prepare children for kindergarten, it also helps them with socialization in a rural district where many children live far apart, he said.
Teetz said the half-day program serves the students' needs and the district has no plans to change that. Getting dismissed at noon, the children can go home and relax or nap.
Betsy Brown, secretary to the superintendent of the Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville School District, is equally enthused about the effect UPK has had on her 4-year-old granddaughter, who had little contact with other children before UPK.
"She just blossomed and came out of herself," she said. "She's learning so much. She surprises me every day."
With the merger between O-E and St. Johnsville, and accompanying state merger funds, the district went to full-day UPK two years ago. It has 17 students at the D.H. Robbins Elementary School and 20 at the Elementary-Middle School, all 4-year-olds. Head Start also is housed by the district and has pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.
"Our students are doing wonderfully well with it," said Becky Marzeski, principal of D.H. Robbins and the pre-K program, of adapting to a full-day schedule. The children are allowed nap time that usually lasts 30 minutes, but the children can sleep as long as they need to.
The full day permits more learning and socialization than a half-day and generally syncs better with parents' work schedules, she said. Small class sizes enable the teacher and aide to provide more individual attention, and the students are better prepared for kindergarten, she added.
The news release from the governor's office said studies show students in high-quality pre-K programs are more likely to read at grade level and graduate high school, and the programs are credited with increasing performance in math and reading and reducing grade retention, according to the Gloversville district.
Lauri Kent, director of the Gloversville elementary curriculum and instruction, said the full-day program will provide "more time on task, which is going to make a huge difference."
A full six hours helps compensate for time lost when children arrive and leave school. The district also will retain a half-day program for 18 children.
She outlined the typical day consisting of circle time, when the children are first gathered together; story reading; snacks; center time for self-directed art, music, blocks, building and science; play time; lunch; and social studies that focus on the children's small world of home and neighborhood with guided exploration. Nap or quiet time of 20 to 30 minutes will be built into the afternoon, as scheduled by teachers. Pre-literacy learning about letters and numbers and math reasoning will be a major part of the program.
Activities aren't just fun. "These children think it's play, but it's actually educational experiences," Kent said.
The Fulton County YMCA, Fulmont Community Action Agency, Head Start and Whispering Pines Preschool will be among the agencies partnering with districts in full- or half-day programs.
The first day for pre-K students at Broadalbin-Perth will be Sept. 15.
Broadalbin-Perth's pre-K plans not only involve more instruction but the incorporation of education in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. The program will use iPads, interactive white boards and 3-D printers. The YMCA will provide swimming since the district has no pool.
The full day will run from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., ending before the older schoolchildren get out to avoid the younger ones' getting jostled, said Terry LaFountain, director of curriculum and instruction.
She said a number of parents who work said the full-day program works better for them logistically.
Fort Plain's full-day program starts Thursday.
Douglas Burton, Fort Plain's superintendent, said since the district already had three half-day sessions, it was "not a big jump" to convert to two full-day sessions.
Besides more time on basic skills, the full day will provide more time for art and music, physical activity, instruction on nutrition, and field trips. The Arkell Museum, the YMCA and the Utica Zoo are among the district's partners.
"Having a full-day program will enable teachers and students to have more time to work on readiness skills," Burton said in a news release.
Other school districts are examining their own needs and retaining their half-day programs.
Fonda-Fultonville is continuing its two half-day sessions but will look at the pros and cons of a full day, said Thomas Ciaccio, associate superintendent and director of the elementary program.
He said his district wants to learn from other districts that have full-day programs to see what works best and what doesn't.
Jeremy Siddon, Wells' K-12 principal, said the district "currently will stick with the half-day program," which is working well for the community.
"Every district is different," he said. "The one-size-fits-all doesn't work."
Canajoharie is partnering with Head Start, which serves lower-income families and 3- and 4-year-olds, while the district's two half-day programs reaches 4-year-olds.
District Superintendent Debbie Grimshaw said the combined programs "captures the majority of students" in this small rural district. She describes the partnership as "a win-win" situation.
Patricia Kilburn, director of curriculum, testing and personnel in Johnstown, said the window of opportunity to apply for state aid for a full-day pre-K was too small for the district to apply.
She said the district needed time to put together a quality program and didn't want to throw together something just to capture a grant.
"You have to build the right kind of program," she said, adding that such a program would require rebuilding in the district and at the YMCA, its partner agency.
Johnstown has two morning and one afternoon program and provides transportation to the children and day care at Pleasant Avenue School, so for some children, it's a half-day pre-K and half-day day care. Enrollment is pre-K is rolling, meaning children can join at any time. The school can handle more enrollments now.
She said nearly every child improves educationally in the half-day program.
Wheelerville has a half-day program that "develops the children's basic skills," and the district is not against the possibility of full-day pre-K, said Richard Ruberti, superintendent.
Mayfield has morning and afternoon half-day pre-K sessions, serving 36 children. Interim Superintendent A. Paul Scott said the program has strong support from the parents, but the district would consider a full-day program if the parents wanted it and the state provided funding.