James Rada Jr.

James Rada Jr.

Schools had already started in the fall of 1970 when enrollment suddenly jumped by nearly 8 percent. Schools around the county welcomed 1,247 kindergarten students for the first time 12 days after other students returned to the classroom.

The Cumberland Evening Times reported that Allegany County was one of the last counties in the state to offer kindergarten. During the 1969-1970 school year, only Allegany, Carroll, Charles, Cecil, Frederick and Talbot counties did not offer kindergarten.

However, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation requiring school systems to offer kindergarten, although students were not required to attend.

Kindergarten is a German invention that encouraged play to help children develop. A kindergarten day started with songs and then allowed children to play with different toys that allowed them to learn and explore the world around them. The first kindergartens opened in the United States in 1856 in Wisconsin. The idea slowly spread from there.

Given the Maryland requirement to offer kindergarten in 1970 and Allegany County’s delayed start, the county might have been the last county in Maryland to offer it.

With the decision made for the county to offer kindergarten, it fell to the board of education to decide how to implement it. It was decided to “phase” it in by delaying the start, so brand new kindergarten students and teachers wouldn’t be caught up in the hustle and bustle of the first days of school. This would allow any kinks in how the program operated to get worked out without the distractions of problems that typically occur on first day.

The board also decided to pattern its curriculum after Howard County’s curriculum, although the county would develop its own “after we get a year under belt,” according to Wayne Hill, the secretary-treasurer of the board.

The board also voted not to accept kindergarten students from out of state at least for the first year, although out-of-state students were still allowed for grades 1-12.

Training for 20 teacher’s aides who would help with the kindergarten classes began in June at the Allegany Community College Early Childhood Development Center.

The board planned to have 24 kindergarten classrooms in the county with half of them in the old Allegany Community College building on Frederick Street, which was named the Kindergarten Center. Alma G. Logsdon, the former LaVale Elementary principal who served three years in the Army during World War II, was named principal of the center.

The need for classroom space was minimized because the kindergarten program was only a half-day program with morning and afternoon groups of students.

On Sept. 18, 1,247 5-year-olds showed up for class. This brought total enrollment in the school system up to 17,704 students, up from 16,448 the previous year. Nearly half the new students (611) were in the Kindergarten Center.

Besides the Kindergarten Center, the other elementary schools with classes were: Central School in Lonaconing, Cresaptown, Flintstone, Frost, Hill Street, Mt. Savage, Oldtown Fire Hall, Thomas G. Pullen, Luke Community Center (former Luke School).

The program cost was $350,000 (about $2.4 million in today’s dollars) and was expected to increase the county’s tax rate 13 cents to $2.61.

James Rada Jr. can be reached at jimrada@yahoo.com or 410-698-3571.

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