‘Let’s start children off the right way’

  • Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The state Senate has adopted a plan to expand full-day classes for 4-year-old kindergarten in South Carolina for at-risk children,

The plan includes all school districts, and has been met with mixed emotions to DD2.

On one hand Superintendent Joe Pye is pleased about the decision to enroll at-risk students in a full-day classroom schedule. “Every year they’ve brought this up,” he said. “I’m thrilled to hear it made it through the Senate.”

On the other hand, there are concerns about space and pricing for the young students. Right now the district serves 564 students that are in the half-day 4K program, and there are 14 teachers instructing half-day sessions for kindergarteners.

That means 14 teachers serve 40 children per day.

The number of teachers would have to double to accommodate larger classroom sizes. The district will need more classrooms as well, along with materials like furniture and other equipment.

Pye said the district could potentially be facing $1 million in expenses to meet these demands. However, he is optimistic that the state will allocate money for these changes.

“It depends on how much money they give us,” he said. “I’m anticipating some funds.”

Susan Gaston, early childhood services coordinator for the district, said she has been in early childhood education for a long time and to her, it is vital that students enroll in school early. However, like Pye, she is concerned about spacing.

“I’m thinking, where could we put all these kids, even though we want them all to come?” she said.

On top of pricing for additional teachers and classrooms, Gaston said in order for K4 to expand to full day services the district would have to fall under licensing requirements for the Department of Social Services – which would likely require additional expenses.

However, Gaston is excited about the prospect of expanding the half-day classes to full-day.

“It would just be wonderful,” she said. “I think it is difficult for everyone to see the importance in having early childhood education for everyone.

“It’s very expensive,” she added. “The younger the child the more expensive it is. There are all those things to think about, but I’m excited to see that someone understands we need to bring all these kids to school.”

Plus, Gaston said, having the full-day service might be more convenient for parents, particularly the at-risk children.

“I think that would take a lot of hassle away from parents,” she said. “I think there are even parents willing to pay a small fee for this.”

Gaston expressed concerns over where new classrooms would go; from a safety standpoint a mobile unit on a school campus is not the best place for kindergarteners because the classes require larger items – more hands-on material for students.

“Hopefully when our new schools come that is going to help with space,” she said.

Gaston said if expanding the services for at-risk children is going to be done, it might as well be done for all 4-year-old kindergartners.

“Let’s start children off the right way,” she said. “They really do need to all come to school.”

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