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Making the Right Decision

Obsessed with thoughts about education...Last night, the Grosse Pointe schools voted after a two-hour discussion to make all-day kindergarten available for the 2010-2011 school year. No big deal, right? Well, I've got a son who will be in that class, and I'm on the fence about whether he's ready for such a challenge.

Education is a top priority for Detroit and the whole state of Michigan -- at least, it should be. We all want our children to succeed. Yet the worried Mom in me wants my barely 5-year-old son to enjoy a half-day program. At such a young age, is he ready to take on a full day of school?

Detroit Schools last week declared via Robert Bobb that there will be no more "social promotions," or boosting students up a grade when they are not ready for it. Another story in The Detroit News highlights one mother's fight to keep her daughter in kindergarten for a second year -- her teacher wants it, the family wants it. But the district is set to push her up to first grade just to keep her moving forward.

Who makes the best decision for students: parents or the district?

According to my school board, only 330 of Michigan's 781 districts have all-day kindergarten right now. They range from Huron Valley to Highland Park, so all demographic and economic areas. Nationwide, some 75 percent of kindergartens are all-day programs in 2008, the latest data presented to us. That is up from about 55 percent of the nation's 4 million kindergarten students in 1998. In other words, Michigan needs to get on the bus now or face falling behind even more.

In the DPS all-day Pre-K and Kindergarten classes, "the curriculum is structured to keep the young child engaged in learning with a rigorous yet developmentally appropriate curriculum that includes mathematics; science; language and literacy development; art; and social studies," according to the district. "When the students complete the DPS Pre-K and Kindergarten programs and begin regular school, they are prepared to succeed-ready to embrace learning as a life-long adventure."

My local school board member said it best, perhaps: Grosse Pointe could offer all-day kindergarten now and get on top of it. Or the district could wait until the state mandates it in a few years. Either way, the kindergarten teachers and elementary school principals were in total agreement: Kids are best served by stretching the curriculum across the full day rather than trying to pack it into a three-hour, half-day program. The board voted 7-0 to approve the switch to a full-day program, which will be free (as opposed to the structure now, which costs parents almost $4,000 to add a half-day of day care to the kindergarten day).

I was thrilled to see so many parents at the meeting who were as passionate about the topic as I am. It felt great to be involved in the decision-making process and to hear the board's thoughts as they made this change. I am disappointed with the final decision, I admit. But I am realistic -- if the program will make my son a better student and offer him greater success throughout his educational career, I just may have to swallow my concerns and do it.

Michigan is at a turning point right now. We need to have a strong, educated population to make this state move forward. Like I've said before on this blog, I want my son to stay in Michigan and make it his home. So I'm happy the school districts are trying to maintain the national standards here to keep us competitive.

So this Mom likely will send her son to a full day of school in the fall with the knowledge that it is best for him. But I'll be wondering in my gut if it is the right decision for us for a long time after that.

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