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A Tale Of Two Kindergartens

November 18, 2008, 10:12 PM by Katie Janssen

A Tale Of Two Kindergartens
Two schools, two very different kindergarten programs. In Sioux Falls, students go all day right from the beginning. In Rapid City, students attend kindergarten for a few hours a day. 

Is one way better than the other? It depends on who you ask. 

The story begins in Rapid City, where kindergarteners here are like many others throughout the country and only go to school for a half-day. But the Rapid City district says they use the time wisely. 

"They focus on number sense and number concepts,” said Katie Bray, Rapid City’s assistant superintendent. “In reading the focus is on guided and shared reading, and letter concepts." 

Bray says the district would like to offer longer school hours for kindergarteners, but two things are keeping that from happening: budget and building space. 

"We have, in this district, 46 sections of half-day kindergarten,” said Bray. “We wouldn't have the capacity to extend that to a full day." 

Still, Bray says students are getting a quality education, and are well-prepared for first grade. 

The Sioux Falls school district tested the full-day program in the 1998-99 school year and switched shortly after. 

"Our students were able to complete everything they needed to complete within the kindergarten curriculum and teachers had time to enrich what they were doing," said Sioux Falls elementary curriculum director Rich Meier. 

The Sioux Falls district faced some of the same financial concerns while getting started, but the school board made room in the budget after seeing the payoff. 

"As we're teaching kids to read and learn to use words, they're also learning how that connects with a science unit or a social studies unit," Meier said. 

Studies have shown even the youngest students have a high capacity for learning. But when it comes to what kindergarten program to choose, the question goes from how much can they learn, to how much can they handle? 

Take for example, the Rice family of Sioux Falls. All three kids experienced full-day kindergarten with great success. Little Arianna already knows how to write her name, and is now learning how to form a sentence. 

"We're sounding it out, so we can read," said Arianna. 

Dawn Rice says Arianna was ready for all-day school, and sometimes surprises her mother with what she's learned. 

"There are different things that I didn't realize she was up to that level yet,” Rice said. “You don't anticipate some of that stuff until first, second grades, higher levels. Since she's doing that stuff already, it's exciting." 

Now, take the Regier family, also of Sioux Falls. Six-year-old Rex is naturally shy, and had a tough time adjusting from preschool to kindergarten. 

"Physically he was fine, it was the emotional maturity,” said Rob Regier, Rex’ father. “He just wasn't ready for a seven hour school day." 

Rob Regier says Rex is learning just as quickly as the other kids, enjoys the social interaction, and as a bonus, his school provides rest time. 

"We read stories," Rex said. 

But often, it's not enough. 

"We noticed he was tired, a little moody after school,” Rob Regier said. “He loves it and loves his teachers and friends, but moody and tired after school." 

Regier says Rex is slowly transitioning and there are no plans to pull him from public school. But the family isn't alone in their struggle. 

So what's the best kindergarten program? There is no right answer, only what's right for your child. 

Both the Sioux Falls and Rapid City school districts say parent involvement is one of the best ways to ensure your child succeeds, regardless if they attend a full-day or half-day kindergarten.

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