OXFORD – Halfway through the school day, kindergarten students used to watch the “big kids” eat lunch in the school cafeterias as the younger students boarded the bus to go home.

This won’t be the case anymore.

Kindergarten students will go to school six hours a day, five days a week instead of the traditional half-day schedule in the Oxford Hills school district.

The change was necessitated by increasing curriculum requirements. SAD 17 Superintendent Mark Eastman said it was difficult for teachers to fit everything into one half day.

The program was piloted at Oxford Elementary last year. Waterford Elementary and Harrison Elementary also tested modified versions of the program, Eastman said.

Oxford Elementary Principal Alan Struck said the response was overwhelming.

“The writing area (had been given) less attention,” Struck said. “We were able to flesh it out a little bit.”

Struck also said that the kids were able to spend more time in music and physical education classes.

“These folks saw a lot of growth,” Struck said.

As a result, the students were more prepared for first grade – so that curriculum had to be adjusted, Struck said.

“It (the program) exceeded all of our expectations,” Struck said.

Oxford Elementary kindergarten students enjoyed being in school all day. They felt like “big kids,” Struck said.

Eastman said the full-day kindergarten idea originated from a research team that was tasked to find the most effective program for early learners. Parents and teachers were supportive, said Kathy Elkins, curriculum director, who chaired the committee.

The full-day kindergarten program also saves the district money as it eliminates the need for midday bus runs, Eastman said.

The National Center for Education Statistics released a report on the growing prominence of full-day kindergarten programs. It states that full-day kindergarten is more prominent in large cities and small towns or rural areas, as opposed to suburban or large town areas.

Across the country, 56 percent of kindergarten children go to school all day.

The center reports that a common reason for schools switching to this program is because of the increasing number of single parent households and households with both parents working.

Eastman said 60 percent of school districts in Maine have implemented such programs.

Parents who do not feel their kids are ready for a full day of school have other options, Eastman said. The district does not require students to be enrolled until they are 7 years old, and they can go right into first grade. Also a parent may pick their kid up from school at midday.

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