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Free full-day kindergarten coming to Jackson Park

This week was alive with kindergarten buzz. As parents signed up their children for the first free full-day kindergarten open to all Bremerton School District students, Central Kitsap announced its students are going to have the same option.

Administrators and teachers at Jackson Park Elementary School have been hoping to offer a free full-day kindergarten for six years now, said outgoing principal Shirley Kenmochi. Officials say that Jackson Park’s new program is funded for up to 19 students.

Kenmochi came to Jackson Park in 1999 and in 2000 she formed a team to plan ahead and apply for Title I funds, a federal program that allocates extra money to help children in low-income families meet state academic standards. The funds are available for individual students, but schools can apply as well if at least 50 percent of their students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Now that requirement has been lowered to 40 percent.

Jackson Park became Central Kitsap School District’s only Title I-funded school in 2002.

Kenmochi’s team came up with several goals.

“The staff generated what they thought was the most significant things that would impact student learning,” she said.

Among those were an after-school reading program, which is in place, and an adult mentor program, which is yet to be realized. Full-day free kindergarten also was on the list.

“With declining enrollment we wanted to offer another option to parents,” Kenmochi said. “And another impetus for us is parents are coming from states that had full-day programs.”

Many of Jackson Park’s students come from the nearby military housing neighborhood and often had free full-day kindergartens at their previous schools.

Jackson Park’s enrollment peaked in the mid-1990s with more than 600 students, Kenmochi said. But now there are 334 students attending the school. The forecast is for even fewer next school year.

CKSD officials did not link the timing of the announcement for the new program to Bremerton’s own new free full-day kindergarten. Jackson Park Naval Housing residents, however, can enroll their children in either Bremerton or CK schools.

“With declining enrollment and available staffing and urgent family needs it is the right time to offer the program,” said Hertica Martin, executive director of elementary teaching and learning for CKSD.

“The research indicates that attending a full-day kindergarten results in academic and social benefits for students at least in the primary grades,” Martin said.

Kenmochi, too, sees the social benefit to kindergartners who would experience a full school day and get to eat lunch with their classmates and participate in recess.

“The gifts of time and academic rigor are probably the two most important components,” she said.

“That’s the goal, to be successful readers sooner, to solidify their reading skills” Kenmochi added.

“Now you can integrate in an art lesson some math concepts,” Kenmochi said.

PineCrest Elementary School will continue to offer its full-day kindergarten, now in its third year. That option is made possible by a $2,200 annual tuition, which supplements state funds paying for half-day kindergarten. Limited reduced or free tuition spots are available at PineCrest. Two spots are reserved for students qualifying for reduced-price lunch and one is for a student in the free lunch category.

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