Elgin Area School District U-46 will offer tuition-based, full-day kindergarten next year in a pilot program that could see future expansion.
Julie Kallenbach, director of early learner initiatives, said the program will be open to 80 students across four classrooms -- two on the west side of Elgin and two in the Bartlett area. As the district expects far more interest than available spots, the kindergartners will be selected by lottery.
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U-46 now offers full-day kindergarten only for students who show an academic need for extra support. The kindergarten intervention program is offered to students who go to schools in largely low-income communities.
School board President Donna Smith said when all-day kindergarten first was offered to a select group of students, parents started asking for it for their own children.
"They were the ones who suggested, 'Can't we pay additional for the all-day?'" Smith said. "We've been hearing that for quite a while."
The current model of half-day kindergarten is difficult for working parents to manage, and it forces kids to adjust to several environments a day if they start or end in child care.
Kallenbach expects kids to benefit from the program socially, forming stronger bonds with peer groups they spend entire days with. And while the core curriculum for kindergarten is strong, Kallenbach said longer days will give teachers the chance to do more literacy activities, potentially boosting student performance in the elementary grades.
The cost will be $100 for August and $300 for September through May, but offered on a sliding scale. Students who qualify for reduced-price lunches will be asked to pay $145 per month and $50 for August. The charge is $70 per month and $25 for August for those who qualify for free lunches.
Kallenbach said the district has explored full-day kindergarten for years but started planning the pilot in earnest last spring. Its future will depend on a variety of factors.
"If it can sustain itself and it doesn't hurt the district financially and we can come up with enough classroom space, then that's going to guide our expansion," Kallenbach said, adding that the district would be tracking the students' test scores to find out if the program improves academic success.
Applications, which are available at U-46 schools and online at www.u-46.org, are due March 15.