Editor's note: This is a three-part series examining the growth of full-day kindergarten. Yesterday offered a look at the growing trend. Tomorrow is a countywide look at districts considering adding more full-day kindergarten classes.

"GRRRrrrrr!"

Wiley Kurcheski's kindergarten students repeated the word aloud during a December school day.

Kurcheski was reading a story about a bear: "The sound words come alive," the teacher said.

The 15 students clawed the air and mimicked various animal sounds like a zoo of onomatopoeia, then scattered around the Ore Valley Elementary classroom, abuzz, creating their own action story involving an animal.

Ore Valley Elementary teacher Wiley Kurcheski instructs in full-day kindergarten class on Tuesday. The Dallastown School District currently offers full-day
Ore Valley Elementary teacher Wiley Kurcheski instructs in full-day kindergarten class on Tuesday. The Dallastown School District currently offers full-day classes to at-risk students, and is considering offering it to all kindergarten-age children. (Bill Kalina Photo)

Special-needs student Damian Vaughn, 6, was pulled aside to get extra help for his story.

Damian's family delayed
enrolling him in a Dallastown kindergarten class for a year, hoping he'd be better prepared this year.

This year, he's in one of Dallastown's two full-day kindergarten classes, designed for at-risk students such as those with special needs or from a poor or non-English-speaking family.

At the same time, his younger sister, 5-year-old Mackenzie, started half-day kindergarten.

The extra classroom time has helped Damian gain ground on his sister, said their grandmother, Michelle Vaughn.

"He's surpassing his sister," Vaughn said.

As a classroom volunteer in both classes, she's seen first-hand how Damian gets more time to go over material. Too often, she said, Mackenzie comes home "overwhelmed."

Fears unfounded: Vaughn was initially concerned Damian might struggle going to school all day. She's been proven wrong.

Damian, who said he loves going to school to read, was grinning ear-to-ear after the animal sounds activity.

With help from a classroom aide and with concentration on forming his letters, Damian wrote his own, original sentence: "Grr. The bear was in my house."

Vaughn's not sure Damian could have achieved such an academic milestone in a half-day class. "He would have been lost," she said.

Dallastown officials point to advancement similar to Damian's as an example of why they should expand full-day offerings to all students.

Here's their general rationale: If a full day of kindergarten works so well for those at-risk students, then it would be even better for the district to make all of its kindergarten classes full-day.

It's a belief reflected in a countywide trend that shows more and more full-day kindergarten classes.

Full-day the 'best choice': Kurcheski used to be a half-day teacher and has seen the difference the extra time has made in at-risk students.

Every kindergarten student would benefit from the extra time, she believes.

"Why not make the best choice for them right away?" Kurcheski said.

Educators say it's not a case of half-day classes only covering half the material compared to full-day. It's the same curriculum for both models, except full-day gets twice the time to repeat, reinforce and supplement the material.

Kurcheski said she doesn't feel nearly as rushed now. She pointed out she had time to read a book about animal sounds, "Polar Bear, Polar Bear," then talk to students about why the author chose some of his words, then have students write similar sentences.

"I have all day to dig deeper," she said.

From the time her students arrive around 8:30 a.m., they are moving from activity to activity, usually in a 15- or 30-minute interval. Word work shifts into shared reading, which shifts into handwriting, which shifts back into reading, and so on.

But it's not all strict academics. There are games, arts and crafts, music -- even a "quiet time" after lunch to give the students a chance to recoup before afternoon.

"If you keep it quick and engaging, it works," she said as she whisked from desk to desk before wrapping up a writing lesson.

Opposition: The full-day movement is not embraced by the entire Dallastown community.

Former Dallastown teacher Jodi Brown, in a letter to the school board, said the extra time could drain students physically and emotionally.

"The fact of the matter is there is never going to be enough time," Brown wrote.

Other parents came to recent board meetings worried their children would have too much, too soon.

"Do we have to mandate that every parent puts their kindergartner on a bus and get them back eight hours later?" asked parent Kelly Paraskevakos.

To help ease the transition, Superintendent Stewart Weinberg said, the district would probably offer a few half-day classes in the first year.

Financial impact: For months, Dallastown has considered expanding its program, hoping to take advantage of extra classroom space created by the new intermediate school opening next year.

To make the switch, Dallastown would need to have five additional kindergarten teachers, for a total of 18, according to Weinberg. And there would be the equivalent of three additional full-time teachers needed for areas such as music and gym.

It has made some taxpayers leery of adding to the district's expenses.

"If you can do it without raising taxes one single penny, fine. Otherwise, it has to stop," resident Sandra Loos told the school board.

"We don't have money to fund everything that everybody is asking for," said resident Jen Hyman.

Weinberg said he's well aware that the economy is making people worried about increased taxes.

So in his presentation in late December on staffing needs, Weinberg laid out a plan that would add all the necessary full-day kindergarten staff without adding any net cost.

Weinberg said some other staff at the middle and high school levels would not be needed, creating a savings. That is made possible because the new intermediate school will create shifts in teaching needs throughout the district.

The district would also save about $130,000 in busing costs because of the switch to full-day, he said, since they won't need to bus students to and from school at midday.

The result is a budget-neutral addition of a complete full-day program, Weinberg told the school board.

The board is expected to vote on the program in one of its February meetings.

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at 505-5431, ashaw@yorkdispatch.com or twitter.com/ydblogwork.