Medford Public Schools plan extended kindergarten program

Full-day kindergarten may still be on the horizon for Medford Township Public Schools, but a new program for next year will give parents an option beyond the normal, half-day classes.

Superintendent Joseph Del Rossi said the school district plans to unveil a new, extended kindergarten program for the 2014–15 school year.

At last week’s meeting, the Board of Education approved a resolution allowing the school district to negotiate a contract with an outside provider to run the extended program. The district also sent a letter to parents informing them of the new program.

Del Rossi said contract negotiations are ongoing with the YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties and Camp Ockanickon for the program. The partnership already provides before- and after-school care for the district.

The extended kindergarten program was included as part of the district’s 2014–15 budget, which was approved at last week’s meeting.

Del Rossi emphasized the extended kindergarten option would support the curriculum. The students will not learn new material, but would rather take part in learning sessions supporting the skills taught during their regular class.

“This is a program that will not be introducing new skills,” Del Rossi said. “There will be communication between our department and the provider to support our existing curriculum in kindergarten.”

Morning and afternoon extended kindergarten will be offered by the school district. A child who is enrolled for the extended session will be in his or her regular class for half of the day and the extended class for the other half.

“If they were to attend our a.m. kindergarten session, they could also attend our p.m. extended kindergarten and then either be transported home by us or they could get picked up by a parent,” Del Rossi said.

Extended kindergarten will be tuition-based. Del Rossi said the tuition will be determined by the provider once a contract is agreed to. Families who may struggle to pay for the extended program will be able to apply for scholarships.

“They do offer scholarships for those who qualify by need,” Del Rossi said. “They’ll provide parents with that information.”

The extended kindergarten program is just another step in the district’s focus on its youngest students. Last summer, the district unveiled a summer program to help kindergarten students transition to first grade. Del Rossi said the district is expanding that program further in 2014.

“This year, we are assessing incoming kindergarten students, and we will be inviting a select number of those students in to reinforce skills and get them ready for kindergarten,” he said.

Even though a contract has not been finalized between the school district and the YMCA, Del Rossi wanted to inform parents of the program with the summer quickly approaching.

Del Rossi expressed his desire to eventually have full-day kindergarten in the district. While he acknowledged this is not a possibility due to current budget constraints, he believes extended kindergarten will benefit the students in the long run.

“The sooner we build a foundation with our kindergarten students, the better off they’re going to do in first, second, third grade,” he said.