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School district sees benefits in evening preschool program

June 11, 2018
Neal Morton
Seattle Times

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — Hours after the final school bell rang on a recent afternoon, the empty hallways and barren playground at Martin Luther King Elementary were silent.

But in a corner of the campus, located just north of the Columbia River in southwest Washington, about a dozen 4- and 5-year-olds erupted in giggles as teacher Jennifer Gay tried to focus their attention on the final day of an unconventional preschool program.

“Raise your hand if you know how to speak Spanish,” Gay told her students, only a couple of whom raised their hands. “Maybe we can learn together.”

Shouts of “cinco,” ”dos” and “cuatro” followed as Gay pointed to different numbers.

Traditionally, schools across Washington hold their prekindergarten classes in morning and afternoon shifts during the regular school day. But three years ago, as classrooms filled to capacity at all 21 elementary schools in Vancouver Public Schools, the district floated an idea with the families that filled an ever-growing waiting list.

“It just struck me during a late-night brainstorm session: Why can’t we do this in the evening?” said elementary mentor and preschool teacher Kendra Yamamoto.

She now oversees an evening preschool program that grew from just one campus in 2016 to nine sites this school year.