DERRY — The Derry Cooperative School Board is moving forward with plans to bring a tuition-free full-day kindergarten program to local schools and will be asking families to pre-register early to see what student numbers might be.

The board will include costs for the kindergarten plan within its proposed budge for next year that voters will consider at the polls next March.

The district sent a letter out, asking parents to pre-register using an online form.

In September, a kindergarten steering committee gave a presentation on the benefits of having children attend kindergarten for a full day.

Benefits for a full-day schedule include increased play time, exploration, more access to unified arts classes, more social time and expanded developmental activities and instruction.

For the half-day now, there are no unified arts classes, and is mostly instructional time in math and literacy. The half-day program offers 480 hours per year; a full-day program would provide 1,080 hours of instructional time per year.

At the recent school board meeting Oct. 22, a video showing one of the district's full-day classes was shown, highlighting the added instruction, recess, lunch time, activities, and other unified arts programs children could enjoy by going all day.

Right now, Derry offers a free half day program for its kindergarten students. For a full-day, tuition is charged.

A community kindergarten forum followed earlier this month at South Range Elementary School with about 50 parents, school staff and board members attending.

The Derry district also sent out a survey to gauge families on their thoughts on a possible full-day schedule someday being implemented with about 132 responses came back with a strong 88% saying they would participate in a full-day, tuition-free program if offered.

In the state of New Hampshire, there are about 167 school districts already offering a full day of kindergarten. Others, like Londonderry, are also considering asking voters to decide on whether the full day plan is a good idea.

Costs to bring a full day to Derry would be for additional staff and equipment. Kindergarten classes are currently held in all the district's elementary schools.

Steering committee member Jayne Boyle said there has been a lot of interest from families wanting a full-day program. She is also the district's Director of Student Services.

"For the last two years we've been getting calls asking about full-day kindergarten," she said.

The recent letter sent will allow interested parents to offer information about their students that might want to be part of a full-day program to be part of a district data base of information. No money will be accepted at this time, Boyle said.

It all depends on if the budget passes in March. If the school budget passes, including the kindergarten funding, then more registration materials will be put in place.

Before that, though, it's imperative to get the word out to the community, officials said.

Board member Brenda Willis said there is specific benefits for children attending a full-day program.

"We don't want to leave anybody behind," she said, "and looking into providing full-day kindergarten and giving that opportunity to all our kids is what we should do."

Willis stressed the added opportunities for children in full-day kindergarten, including the added unified arts studies, going to lunch, and having recess.

"Play is children's work," she said. "That's how they learn. Hopefully, our budget passes and as we continue to talk about it. I think people will see the value, too."

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