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DoDDS Starts Full-Day Kindergarten at Selected Sites

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 12, 1999 – At least 30 Department of Defense overseas schools will have full-day kindergarten beginning next fall, said Director Lillian Gonzales of the Department of Defense Education Activity.

"Full-day kindergarten has been a community need for many years," Gonzales said.

The new six-hour kindergarten classes, more than twice as long as the present 2 1/2 hours, will allow for more individual instruction between teachers and students, she added. "We didn't have sufficient time to deliver the type of instruction we believe is necessary," Gonzales said.

Gonzales said she hopes the additional class time will also enhance parents' opportunities to participate.

The goals for kindergarten won't change, she said. "We'll have more time to achieve our goals." By the end of the kindergarten year, students should be on their way to reading independently and be engaged in some real scientific, exploratory problem solving, she explained.

The full-day kindergarten program will be phased in over the next six years, starting this fall with schools that have available classroom space. Construction and renovations to accommodate future full-day programs are planned for schools without facilities.

Gonzales is hopeful all Department of Defense Dependents Schools will have full-day kindergarten by the year 2006. Leaving the agency in September after serving five years as its director, she considers the new program part of her legacy.

"I'm most proud of finally being able to deliver to our parents the kindergarten program," she said. "It was an issue parents brought to me four years ago. I felt committed to delivering it, not only because they requested it, but also because I know the value of full-day kindergarten. I believe strongly that all of our children in DoDEA, as well as throughout the nation, should be offered full-day programs."

Full-day kindergarten is possible because of funds included in the president's budget to expand education programs, Gonzales said. DoDEA also received money to reduce teacher-to-student ratios and to pilot a summer school program in the years 2000 and 2001.

"We've identified schools where we can place both the kindergarten and reduced parent-to-teacher ratios initially in sites which do not require any changes in the facilities," she said. "The reduction in class size begins at some sites this fall. There will be a gradual phasing in as sites are prepared to support smaller class sizes."

By the year 2006, all DoDDS schools will meet the national standard teacher-to-student ratio of 1:18 for grades one through three.

Gonzales said another project is a pilot summer school, now in its early planning stages. Overseas schools are looking at how summer schools can best serve their communities -- for instance, at elementary, middle or high school level.

"We want our administrators and parents to come together and determine what they need from a summer school program to extend learning opportunities for children," Gonzales said. Each district will have that self-determination.

All these programs are funded through 2006 and are part of the education activity's strategic plan, Gonzales said.

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