When kindergarten students begin their school year Wednesday, Aug. 23, at Kae Avenue Elementary School, it will represent a benchmark for students and the district.

That day, every kindergarten student in Whitehall schools will attend class in the same building.

All kindergarten and first-grade students in the Whitehall City School District will go to Kae Avenue this year. Students in grades 2-5, who returned to class Aug. 16, attend either Beechwood or Etna Road elementary schools.

Kae Avenue and the C. Ray Williams Early Childhood Center, connected this summer to each other via a covered outdoor walkway, represent the district's new Early Literacy Campus.

"We are excited to bring all of our pre-K to first-grade students to the same campus, enabling us to be more efficient with our early literacy resources," said Chris Hardy, coordinator of elementary education.

To help students acclimate, Kae Avenue hosted an open house Aug. 7 where students could meet their teachers and each student received two free books to get an early start on reading.

While allowing children and families to meet teachers, the event was held "especially to support literacy," said Kelly Golsby, principal at Kae Avenue Elementary School.

Several entities collaborated to provide the books free of charge to students.

"We want to provide as many resources as possible so every student walks out as an active reader," Whitehall Superintendent Brian Hamler said.

Parents who attended the open house shared differing views on the new grade structure.

"I think it's great to focus on literacy," said Kate Webster, adding it will require her to take each of her three children to a different school.

"Still, it's a huge benefit," said Webster, who noted with three children, it has become more difficult to provide individual reading exercises.

"I'm excited to have an extra push for it at school," she said.

Kyle and Stephanie Mason also have three children, but said the change doesn't adversely affect them, since they live close to Kae Avenue.

"I think it is a good approach to literacy to have all the kids in the same age group together," Stephanie Mason said.

Her husband sees an ancillary benefit in separating the youngest children from those slightly older as they differ in maturity.

"I like that all the younger children are together, instead of kindergarten and fifth-graders being at the same school," Kyle Mason said.

But others questioned the change, especially when it comes at the expense of changing schools this year for students between kindergarten and first grade and the inconvenience of having children at multiple schools.

"I'm not so sure why they're doing it," said Jennifer Graham, a Whitehall graduate who has children and grandchildren in elementary school.

"I'd prefer kindergarten to fifth grade to be in the same school. It's what I'm used to; this is so much different to me," said Graham, whose daughter attends Kae Avenue instead of Etna Road as a result of the new structure.

Daniela Montanez has a son at Etna Road and a daughter at Kae Avenue.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to me," said Montanez. "It's a big change. I'm not too happy about it."

But district administrators are optimistic the change will produce the desired results.

"This is a great opportunity to create an environment tailored to young students and grow our early literacy teachers together for the benefit of our families," Hardy said.

The district has about 720 students in pre-kindergarten through first grade, said Ty Debevoise, director of communications and marketing for Whitehall schools.