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Decades-Old Md. Kindergarten Program In Jeopardy

The Capital

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- As the graduation ceremony concluded last month at Weems Creek Nursery School and Kindergarten in Annapolis, Erica Leach dabbed tears from her eyes.

The kindergarten teacher looked on as her colleague, Kate Mott, dismissed the school's Class of 2013 and the kids rushed to their parents. They were ready to move on to first grade.

It may be the last such ceremony at the 41-year-old school on Kirkley Road.

The school may not continue its half-day kindergarten program this fall due to low enrollment. Only seven kids graduated May 22. Last year, there were 17.

One reason for the low enrollment is that more schools and parents are opting for all-day kindergartens, said owner Maggie Riith, whose mother, Missy Tate, opened the school in 1972.

At least six students need to enroll in the program for the school to continue the class this fall, Riith said. So far, only four have enrolled.

"My mom started the school when I was 4," Riith said. "I'd hate to be the one to see (the kindergarten program) go by the wayside."

A state mandate for all-day kindergarten in public schools took effect in 2007. More private schools also began offering kindergarten all day.

Weems Creek has one of the few half-day programs left in the Annapolis area, Riith said. It runs weekdays from 12:15 to 3:30 p.m. Tuition is $5,800.

In the Anne Arundel County Public School system, enrollment in all-day kindergarten has increased from 5,258 in 2007-2008 to 6,254 this year. Attempts to get comprehensive private school numbers were unsuccessful.

Trish Saynuk, coordinator of early childhood education and school readiness for the county school system, said the all-day kindergarten program helps teachers better prepare students for first grade.

The kindergartners get more instructional time and individual attention, Saynuk said. The county programs also have recess and other breaks to help students burn off excess energy.

"It would be very difficult to cover in a half-day what we do in a full day," she said.

Still, parents and staff at Weems Creek stand by the half-day model.

Some kindergartners can't handle being in school all day, said parent Lisa Boynton, whose daughter Etta graduated from Weems Creek on May 22. The half-day program allows an easier transition between pre-kindergarten and first grade, which runs all day, Boynton said.

"They're still too young at this age," she said. "They haven't developed enough physically or emotionally for a full day."

Another parent, Mollie Dennis, said the school taught her son, Colin, all he needed in the allotted time without "all the extra stuff."

Parent Laurie Sullivan, who has a 5-year-old heading into kindergarten, found the possible demise of the half-day program discouraging.

Sullivan has been sending her offspring to the school for three years, and may have to find a new program for her son if Weems Creek discontinues its half-day kindergarten. She already has enrolled her twin sons in the school's program for 3-year-olds.

Her older son, Sullivan said, "is going to be heartbroken if his little brothers get to go and he doesn't get to go because he loves it so much. It's a really special place."

About 70 kids, from age 3 to kindergarten age, attend the school.
Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md.,

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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