Reynoldsburg City Schools is piloting all-day kindergarten at two elementary schools this year.
The district will use about $1.4 million in federal money to implement the program at French Run, 1200 Epworth Road, and Rose Hill, 7600 Rose Hill Road. Each school has about 100 kindergarten students.
Kindergarten classes at Slate Ridge, Summit Road, Taylor Road and Herbert Mills elementary schools will remain in the half-day format.
Title 1 funding is a noncompetitive grant program that provides money to schools with high numbers of children from low-income families. Districts must use the money for schoolwide programs that raise the achievement of the lowest-achieving students.
The district is "thinking differently" about how it uses Title 1 funds, said assistant superintendent Kimberly Halley.
"When we think about how to position our students for their best future, we know it involves having excellent reading and writing skills. We're trying to be very intentional about how we can allocate more resources to our early grades," Halley said. "It's doubling the amount of time that they will have with books in their hands. We know that this will advance their skills quicker, and in the long range we know they will be reading at grade level. We also know children are going to have exposure to a breakfast and a lunch when they're at school all day."
Of the districts' elementary schools, Rose Hill and French Run have the highest number of economically disadvantaged students -- about 70%, officials said.
Any student eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program is reported to the state as economically disadvantaged. More than half of all Reynoldsburg students -- 56% -- are considered economically disadvantaged.
French Run and Rose Hill also have an academic need; both schools received a D on the 2017-18 Ohio Department of Education report cards.
Both schools received poor grades in other areas, including the gap-closing indicator, which "shows how well schools are meeting the performance expectations for most vulnerable students in English language arts, math, graduation and English language proficiency," according to ODE statistics.
Of the districts in central Ohio with the highest poverty levels, Reynoldsburg is "among the few to still offer a half-day kindergarten," Superintendent Melvin Brown wrote in a June letter to parents about the pilot program.
Research shows that all-day kindergarten can help close achievement gaps, particularly from children in minority or low-income families, according to the National Education Association.
School board president Joe Begeny teaches high school in Columbus City Schools, a district with all-day kindergarten. He said the extra time in the classroom is about more than just reading and writing.
"I wish Reynoldsburg offered all-day kindergarten for my children when they were that age," he said. "The additional academic support, the social support and the consistency of knowing where your kids will be during the day can put a parent's mind at ease.
"The increased exposure to reading and writing is just a part of the benefit our students will have in all-day kindergarten. More time socializing with their peers and the routine of what a school day is like will help set the stage for long terms success."
Reynoldsburg hired four new teachers and four paraprofessionals for the pilot program. It's the first time the district will use paraprofessionals to support kindergarten classes, Halley said.
The district anticipates it would need $1.7 million annually to pay the 12 teachers and 24 paraprofessionals that all-day kindergarten at all elementary schools would require, Halley said.
Space also is at a premium.
"If the district were to move to all-day kindergarten in every building, essentially what we'd have to do is double our (kindergarten) teaching staff," Halley said.
"What prevents us from doing this right now, in addition to the funds, is the physical space."
all-day kindergarten also would mean more materials, including books and furniture.
Although the district faces challenges, Begeny said, the board continues to discuss expanding all-day kindergarten to all elementary schools in the "not too distant future."
More than 55,000 public schools across the country use Title 1 funds to provide programs that reinforce the curriculum, like extra instruction in reading and mathematics or special preschool, after-school and summer programs, according to the U.S. Department of Education.