Reading between the lines, from preschool, on

All-day kindergarten has improved students’ reading abilities in a dramatic fashion. - Jesse Beals/file photo
All-day kindergarten has improved students’ reading abilities in a dramatic fashion.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/file photo

Free, all-day kindergarten a proven success in BSD.

The Bremerton School District board of directors unanimously approved funding for another year of free, full-day kindergarten at a board meeting March 20.

Since its implementation during the 2002-03 school year — when 14 at-risk students from each BSD elementary school were placed in full-day kindergarten to improve their reading ability — the program has been overwhelmingly effective.

Last year the district offered free, full-day kindergarten to all students for the first time.

And the offer is on the table again for the 2008-09 school year as an information and registration fair for the free, full-day program will be held from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday at the district administrative building.

“Full-day kindergarten is life changing for children,” said Linda Sullivan-Dudzic, BSD director of special programs, who has helped to spearhead the program. “By reaching children prior to kindergarten with a quality preschool experience followed by a full-day kindergarten that uses best practice teaching and learning strategies, we provide the solid foundation that children require for their academic journey.”

Early childhood learning has long since been a priority for the district, dating back to 2001.

Seven years ago when statewide voters passed Student Achievement Initiative 728 (I-728), providing funds to increase student achievement in the Bremerton School District, only four percent of BSD preschoolers — assessed by the Dynamic Inventory of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) — knew the alphabet entering kindergarten, according to a report by Sullivan-Dudzic.

In response to the alarming numbers, Sullivan-Dudzic’s report stated, district personnel and community preschool providers formed the Early Childhood Care and Education Group (ECCE) during the 2001-02 school year, aiming to give preschoolers early reading foundation skills and to bulldoze the barriers associated with reading difficulties.

ECCE partnered with Bremerton preschools during the 2002-03 school year and developed a research-validated reading curriculum for all preschoolers, implementing it district-wide to bring reading numbers up.

And the efforts paid off as 28.1 percent of students entering kindergarten were reported to have early reading foundation skills, the report said — a vast improvement from the four percent of 2001.

The notion of full-day kindergarten for all students was introduced by BSD community outreach specialist Krista Carlson, before the 2005-06 school year. Carlson had seen the program work in Tempe, Arizona and believed Bremerton could successfully carry it out.

“It is the only time in a child’s life where you can double the amount of instruction without sacrificing other subjects or enrichment activities,” Sullivan-Dudzic said.

Full-day kindergarten and a preschool program to raise DIBELS scores have yielded staggering results.

In September 2007, 509 first grade students students read at an all-time high 74.2 percent benchmark level after completing a year of full-day kindergarten, up from 59.9 percent in 2006 and 53.7 percent in 2005, Sullivan-Dudzic’s report stated.

Additionally, DIBELS scores skyrocketed to unprecedented heights when the ECCE early learning efforts were combined with full-day kindergarten.

In May 2007, 92.3 percent of full-day kindergarten students read at a benchmark level, well above numbers as low was 55.9 percent in 2002.

“The kids really are ready to learn,” Jan Bullock, a first-grade teacher at Armin Jahr Elementary explained at the March 20 board meeting. “They are achieving at a higher level.”

“Another thing we found out was that the kids were eager to learn,” she said, adding that students who complete full-day kindergarten are entering first grade with a step up. Bremerton also is attracting students from other districts because of its success with full-day kindergarten.

Alicia Vasquez of Central Kitsap, whose son Bailey completed full-day kindergarten in Bremerton, said the program offered her son all he needed to succeed.

“We were looking for an all-day kindergarten that would challenge him,” she said to the board. “He just thrived in that program.”

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