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Half-day vs. full-day: Differing approaches to kindergarten in Utah

Half-day vs. full-day: Differing approaches to kindergarten in Utah. (KUTV)
Half-day vs. full-day: Differing approaches to kindergarten in Utah. (KUTV)
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Half-day or full-day kindergarten is a topic that many parents research before heading back to school.

A Get Gephardt investigation found that not all Utah parents have a choice between the two.

Anna Thomas, a senior policy analyst with Voices for Utah Children says many studies have shown full-day kindergarten helps kids in their development.

Thomas told 2News:

Parents are asking for it, teachers are recommending it,. Kids who start first grade behind their peers tend to fall further behind. Kids who fall really far behind face a greater likelihood of not graduating at all.

There are significant barriers to getting all districts on board, she says, including the availability of teachers as well as classroom space.

The largest issue, though, is money. The state of Utah only funds half-day options.

Utah is one of 17 states where kindergarten is not required.

According to a 2016 national study, 77% of kids that do go to kindergarten across the country are there for the full day. In Utah, that number was just 19% for the 2018-2019 school year.

Salt Lake School District offers at least two full-day kindergarten classes at all of their elementary schools.

District spokesman Jason Olsen says full-day kindergarten was first introduced in SLSD sporadically in the early 2000s as a way to help get kids who were further behind up to speed for first grade.

It was so popular, he says there were waiting lists for parents to enroll their kids. Since then, more and more parents have been clamoring for the full-day option.

“We think reaching these students early is a priority," he said.

Lana Medina shuttles her 5-year-old into Salt Lake City from her home in Davis County because full-day was not available at their boundary school.

“He's ready for full-day kindergarten,” she said. “It's good for him."

Compare SLSD to Alpine School District, and we found that a mere 2% of kindergarten classes are full-day.

"It's not been one of our priority conversation pieces, to be honest," says Alpine Spokeswoman Kimberly Bird.

Not a priority, Bird says, because the district has found another creative way to make sure kindergarteners are ready for first grade when they graduate.

Alpine utilizes classroom coaches to provide one-on-one attention to kids who need more help. Alpine believes it is working well.

Bird said:

79% of our kindergarteners are at or above benchmark.

At the Canyons School District, less than a quarter of kids go to full-day kindergarten – but it’s growing.

A mere four schools had the option but it’s grown to 16 in recent years with increased demand.

The district is passing the expense of full-day on to parents who have to pay $295 per month or $3000 per year if they want their child to attend full-day.

"We don't make money off of this program,” says Canyons spokesman Jeff Haney. “The tuition pays for that teacher to remain with that classroom."

There have been a handful of legislative attempts to make full-day kindergarten more robust in Utah, but none of the bills has passed. The last attempt was in 2011.

The school districts with the best participation in full-day kindergarten tend to be smaller districts in rural Utah.

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To find out how many full-day vs. half-day kindergarten classes are provided in your district, click here.

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