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Lea Hill among 10 Auburn schools funded for all-day kindergarten

Elementary school principals were excited last year to learn that several schools would qualify for the state-funded, all-day kindergarten program.

Lea Hill Elementary School Principal Ed Herda was among the totally jazzed.

Several years earlier, Lea Hill had had a tuition-based, all-day kindergarten program, which had given everyone there such a sweet taste of all-day kindergarten that they were eager to see it return.

"Our kindergarten teachers, myself, our first-grade teachers, we all got to see the benefits once the students went into first grade the following year, so we were excited for state funding to trickle down," Herda said.

Plus, Herda said, he and his peers had been hearing for years about the good things Gildo Rey and Pioneer elementaries had realized from their all-day programs,

As spring approached, Herda learned to his disappointment that Lea Hill was "just going to miss the cut this year," that "it was right on the line." It would have to wait for another year, perhaps two.

But on July 1, the Office of the state Superintendent of Public Instruction notified the Auburn School District that lawmakers in Olympia had found the money after all to fund free full-day kindergarten programs during the 2013-14 school year at 10 qualifying Auburn schools.

Among those 10 schools was Lea Hill.

Naturally, the news occasioned a lot of whooping and hollering.

"We went from just total excitement, from 'Whoa, this is just awesome', to 'Oh, my gosh, now the logistics of this," Herda recalled with a smile.

Since that day, staff at all 10 schools have been shifting classrooms around to open up space. Because, while it had been possible to have two half-day programs in one room, henceforward they will need two rooms.

They've also been hiring. Lea Hill has three kindergarten teachers to start out.

"It's starting to settle in, it's feeling real now, they're coming and it's been great to see our kindergarten team working together," Herda said last Friday, on the verge of the new school year, which started Wednesday. "I just walked in this morning, they don't have to be here, but they were here, working together. Our one kindergarten teacher, Monica Crowe, had been her own island forever here for years. Now she's got a team. And the way students are coming in, I think there'll be a fourth kindergarten class here, and four kindergarten teachers working together. "

The point of the all-day program, which increases the time the kids will spend in class from 2 1/2 hours to six, is to provide accelerated learning opportunities and build a solid foundation for children's growth in elementary school. The program allows for extended study in kindergarten curriculum units, literacy, language and social skill development.

"They are going to have so much more learning time, so we can really secure those skills they are going to need for reading and math, big time. And then we will just send them on to first grade, with the first-grade teachers blown away, so they will have to adjust what they do now because of where the kindergartners are going to be," Herda said, with a can't-wait-to-see-it gleam in his eyes.

The other nine schools are as follows: Alpac Elementary; Chinook Elementary; Dick Scobee Elementary; Evergreen Heights Elementary; Gildo Rey Elementary; Ilalko Elementary; Pioneer Elementary; Terminal Park Elementary; and Washington Elementary.

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