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Rochester four-year-olds could soon have access to a free, full day of prekindergarten if the City School District receives a grant aimed to better prepare students for school.
School district officials expect to hear any day whether they will receive the $10 million in extra state funding for the program. If the district gets the full amount, it could offer a full day of prekindergarten to the roughly 1,860 students currently enrolled in prekindergarten.
The program would start January 6.
"There's so much we can do in that time," said Kathryn Yarlett, who oversees literacy programs in the city schools. "We're going to start doubling the time our kids are exposed to literacy."
Research consistently shows that students who participate in prekindergarten programs do better when they enter kindergarten. That's especially true for children from low-income families, who may have less exposure to vocabulary and reading than their more affluent peers.
"We're going to start doubling the time our kids are exposed to literacy."
-- Kathryn Yarlett
Many districts offer prekindergarten as part of the state's Universal Pre-Kindergarten Program, but the programs vary from district to district, driven by funding and logistics.
The full-day program will also help the City School District meet some of its other goals, including having all students reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
"You hear the superintendent talk all the time about how important those early years are for our kids," said Bill Ansbrow, the district's budget director.
And more time in the classroom is a trend being seen increasingly across some of the district's other programs, with Superintendent Bolgen Vargas saying more time on task will help close the achievement gaps between city students and their peers in the suburbs. This year a number of city schools added more time to their school day, and the district has also been working to increase its academic offerings for students over the summer.
The state allocated $25 million to lengthen prekindergarten programs, and school districts could apply for up to 40 percent. The City School District applied for the maximum funding.
The money would enable the district to double the amount of time prekindergarten students spend on reading and math activities. Students will also have more time to work in centers, typically a rotation of different activities that allow them to develop different social, academic and developmental skills.
The longer day will also leave time for daily movement, rest and two full meals.
And the extra time will be an asset to many parents. Working parents have long complained that the half-day programs make it difficult to drop off and pick up students in the middle of a work day.
"It's been a barrier to parents to have to try to get their kids there for a two-hour program," said Rahimah Wynn, a parent who lives in the city. "I think that will really open it up for parents who don't have the luxury of family who can help them get their children there."
At the same time, Wynn said there would be many unanswered questions, like how many spots would be available and whether the program would be offered from year to year. As it stands now, the grant would be for one year and there is no mechanism for how the program would be funded in the future.
The district has already notified prekindergarten parents of the potential change. There could also be some new spots for children who are not currently enrolled in the prekindergarten program.
"Those things are really important to communicate to parents," she said. "They are going to have a lot of questions."
There could be available spots for the City School District's new full-day kindergarten program. For more information contact (585) 262-8140.