Sunday, October 15, 2006

Restricting Kindergarten: Treating Equals Unequally?

In Longmont, Colorado, Spanish-speaking children may attend an activity-filled "enriched" full-day kindergarten for free while English-speakers must pay:
LONGMONT — Beginning Monday, bilingual kindergartners at Central Elementary School will attend school all day long.

The two bilingual kindergarten classes each had 10 students enrolled this year, which principal Sandra Casias and St. Vrain Valley School District administrators did not think was a good use of resources, said Connie Syferd, director of elementary instruction.

Casias, who has been Central’s principal for three years, said she hopes all-day kindergarten will someday be an option for all children. Because fewer kindergarten students enrolled than expected, the classes could be combined this year.

“I’m hoping to accomplish better achievement for the school as a whole,” Casias said. “The sooner you start with those kids, the quicker you close the gap.”

The goal of all-day kindergarten for the bilingual students is to narrow the achievement gap — to help students with a traditionally high risk of failure accomplish the same in school as other children, Syferd said.

“We want all students to graduate,” she said.

Nearly 50 percent of Central Elementary’s students are considered to be at risk of not graduating high school because of their economic status or their language skills, Syferd said.

Of the school’s 340 students, 120 are bilingual, Casias said.

Colorado state law does not require school districts to offer kindergarten, Syferd said.

“To do full-day kindergarten, it’s an opportunity that’s not funded by the state,” she explained.

A variety of kindergarten options are offered throughout the district.

Five schools — Hygiene, Legacy, Longmont Estates, Rocky Mountain and Burlington — offer fee-based, all-day kindergarten. Others have traditional half-day kindergarten, while at some schools, kindergartners attend 2 1/2 days a week.

“We’re trying to allocate resources in a fair way,” Syferd said. “Fair isn’t always equal.”

At Central Elementary, kindergarten students get to take physical education, music and art, something that is not available at every school.

“We’re excited we can provide what we can provide this year,” Casias said.

Some parents of English-speaking students were not happy when they received notice of the change earlier this week. Lee Goodwin objected to bilingual students having the opportunity to attend full-day kindergarten for free, and that the decision was made without parents’ input.

“If his parents were illegal immigrants, he would get free, full-day kindergarten,” Goodwin said Friday, referring to his child. “Some children get more education than others.”

But when Goodwin learned of the reasons for the change, he said they sounded logical.

The move to full-day kindergarten for bilingual students may have upset him less if those reasons were included in the letter to the parents, he said.

Goodwin said he did not discuss the matter with anyone at the school.

“(Casias) should have been proactive in that case,” Goodwin said.

Two parents discussed the issue with the kindergarten teachers, Casias said. This year, 47 students are enrolled in kindergarten.

English-speaking kindergartners can enroll in a kindergarten enrichment program for a fee. As of Friday afternoon, only two students had shown interest in that program, Casias said.
I think that if the powers-that-be are going to offer an all-day kindergarten program to some, then they should offer it to all.

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