WHEELING, W.Va. — Pre-kindergarten students might not have to go to school on Fridays next year if the West Virginia Legislature votes to amend a law requiring all counties offer five-day preschool classes.
A law passed by the Legislature in 2013 mandates that counties begin offering five-day pre-kindergarten programs by the fall of 2016. Registration for this session of preschool classes already has started across the state.
But the state Senate is slated to have its third reading today on Senate Bill 156, which would drop the five-day weekly requirement in favor of a minimum requirement for instructional time. Under SB 156, schools would be required to offer at least four days of instruction per week and provide at least 1,546 minutes of instruction during the week.
Pre-kindergarten students could attend classes for six and a half hours four days each week, or under a second option they could go five hours a day, Monday through Friday.
Parents in West Virginia are not required to enroll their children in pre-kindergarten classes.
Delegate Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, is a retired teacher who has been called to substitute teach pre-kindergarten classes. He believes the four-day option is better for the youngest students, and said they would actually receive more classroom time by going four days a week, and get an extra day of rest.
The teachers, meanwhile, would get the opportunity to use Fridays as a day to plan and prepare for the following week. Pre-kindergarten teachers have to make their own curriculum, and make all the educational devices used in their classroom, Ferro said.
Teachers need the time to prepare as their students require their constant attention when in the classroom, and there isn’t an opportunity for a break, he said.
“By Friday, those little kids are tired,” Ferro said. “They are exhausted, and the teachers are exhausted, as well.”
He said substitute teaching has given him the utmost respect for pre-kindergarten teachers, especially those who work with autistic students.
“The intensity for those five hours is extremely demanding,” he said. “When the teachers are with the kids, they have no chance to prepare. The kids are cute and funny at that age, but they are needy.”
Delegate David Evans, a Republican, is also a retired teacher representing Marshall County in the House of Delegates. He isn’t certain yet whether the five-day law for pre-school should be changed.
“Personally, I think kids should be at home until they are age 6,” he said. “Four days a week is good, and then the teachers have that extra preparation time. But five days a week gives them more continuity. The problem is, we don’t let kids be kids anymore. They’re going to school at 3 years old.”
Open registration for pre-kindergarten classes in the fall begins Monday in Ohio County, according to Student Services Director MaryLu Hutchins.
“It gives families time to get ready for the transition into the pre-K programs,” she said. “Once it begins, registration is open all year long.”
Students must be age 4 by Aug. 31 to start pre-kindergarten class this fall.
Registration may be completed by calling Hutchins at 304-243-0337, or going to the district website at www.edline.net/pages/Ohio_County_SD.
If parents want to visit a school before enrolling their child, this can be arranged, according to Hutchins.
Pre-kindergarten programs are available at all elementary school buildings in the county, as well as at other satellite locations. Crittenton Services, Kids Clubs, Kings Daughters, Northern Panhandle Head Start, Creative Hands, and Holy Family all offer pre-kindergarten classes in partnership with Ohio County Schools.
Children do not have to be enrolled at the location closest to their home for pre-kindergarten programs. Some parents opt to enroll their child in a program closer to their place of work, or closer to grandparents’ homes.
But once youngsters start kindergarten classes, they do have to attend the school closest to their residence, according to Hutchins.
She said she doesn’t have an opinion on whether pre-kindergarten students should attend classes four or five days a week, and she believes the decision is best left up to parents.
“Some children are ready to be in school, while some aren’t,” Hutchins said. “Many of the students love our programs, while some aren’t in a situation where it is good for them.”