District transitional kindergarten program begins

08.23.2012 | Reedley Exponent | Valerie Nevens

As most Parlier Unified students hustled to class for the start of another school year on Tuesday, Aug. 14, a group of around 45 bright-eyed 4-year-olds were starting their educational journeys on the John C. Martinez Elementary and Mathew J. Brletic Elementary campuses.

These young students are not your average group of kindergartners, but are among the first in the district to participate in the new Transitional Kindergarten program.

The program was developed in response to California’s Kindergarten Readiness Act, which amended the California Educational Code by changing the required birthday for admission to kindergarten. This school year is the first year the act is in effect, moving the eligible birthdate to enter kindergarten from Dec. 2 up to Nov. 1. In the next two years, this date will move up gradually by a month each year. Next year, to enter kindergarten, students will need to turn 5 by Oct. 1, and in 2014, they will need to turn five by Sept. 1, which is the date it will remain for all future years.

The purpose behind the new requirement is that that state realized many younger students were falling behind when they started kindergarten too early. Instead, the state suggested school districts develop pre-kindergarten programs to better prepare kids for academia.

In the past two years since the act was established, many neighboring districts have launched such pre-kindergarten programs on their elementary school campuses. Now, Parlier Unified finally has its own pre-kindergarten program.

Acting Superintendent Martin Mares said Transitional Kindergarten is intended to bridge the gap between preschool and kindergarten for younger students who are born in the fall. Mares also added the program is especially beneficial for children who have not been involved in preschool or daycare programs prior to starting school. Transitional Kindergarten not only prepares kids academically for kindergarten, he said, but socially.

“It is a modified program to meet the needs of younger children,” Mares said. “It gives kids the opportunity to know what kindergarten is going to be like before hand. The curriculum is similar to kindergarten, but slower paced and better tailored to younger kids.

“It is a positive thing. Just imagine a student entering kindergarten, having gone through the transitional program, already knowing the alphabet and how to count and interact with other kids. It gives them a distinct advantage and provides a good foundation as they move up past kindergarten into elementary school and beyond.”

Javier Martinez, the principal at John C. Martinez Elementary School, said he is excited to have the program on campus. For years, Martinez said, he has witnessed younger children fall behind in kindergarten and, as a result, struggle academically in grade school. By adding the extra transitional year of kindergarten, he said, students will be able to better grasp concepts and have a stronger educational foundation.

“The Transitional Kindergarten program is great for younger children,” Martinez said. “What would happen in regular kindergarten classes before is that some younger children were falling behind and we saw it but it was hard to convince parents to retain their children in Kindergarten another year. Many parents felt they would be doing a disservice to their child by not advancing them to first grade and we had to really explain to them that their child was behind and after another year they would be more mature. We have already seen the benefits children received when they are retained and repeated kindergarten that second year. Parents say no, that they don’t want that, but we have seen kids that only have the one year and they struggled that one year and what would happen is they would go into first grade and continue to struggle. However, children with that extra year go into first grade fully understanding the foundational principles taught in kindergarten. They are more mature and ready to take on the coursework.”

By having Transitional Kindergarten as an official class, Martinez said, parents no longer have to feel like they are holding their children back if they need an extra year of kindergarten instruction because most children will be on the two-year path.

“If we see a child is ready for first grade because they grasp all the concepts, although they are very young, we can actually put them in first grade. Most, though, will go to kindergarten next year,” Martinez said. “There will likely be a few that the teacher identifies as being ready to go to first grade because some kids will just naturally get the concepts or they may just be advanced because the concepts are being reinforced at home. If they are exposed to the material at home and are reading and counting and doing everything that is required there, they will end up in first grade.”

Currently about 24 students are enrolled in the Transitional Kindergarten program at Martinez Elementary. Another 19, Martinez said, are enrolled at Brletic Elementary. Parlier’s other two elementary school sites, S. Ben Benavidez Elementary and Cesar E. Chavez Elementary, did not have enough children sign up in order to have classes on each campus. Due to the low sign ups, all the Martinez Elementary and Chavez Elementary transitional kindergartners are enrolled in the program at Martinez Elementary, and all the Brletic Elementary and Benavidez Elementary transitional kindergartners are enrolled in the program at Brletic Elementary.

Mares said he hopes Transitional Kindergarten enrollment will increase in the upcoming school years. Once parents see and understand the benefits of the program, enrollment will go up, he said.

Currently, since the state requirement stands at kindergartners needing to be born on or before Nov. 1 right now, parents with children born in October or September still had the option this year to go ahead and put their children in regular kindergarten, opting out of the Transitional Kindergarten program. By the 2014-2015 school year, however, parents with children turning five after Sept. 1 will need to enroll their children in Transitional Kindergarten.

“Instead of just going back the one month this year, which is the state requirement, Parlier Unified decided to go back all three months,” Martinez said. “So, this year, within those two months, parents have the option to have their child not participate in transitional kindergarten because it’s not required by the state, but within the next two years what we have in place now will be the state requirement. The state gave districts the choice to go ahead and start the program going back all three months, but parents are still given the option to opt out and several have and decided to put their children in kindergarten.”

As for the Transitional Kindergarten curriculum, Martinez said it mirrors the standard California curriculum for kindergarten, but modifies it slightly for the younger children. Basically, the material is the same, he said, but is taught a little differently at a different pace.

“It isn’t necessarily going at a slower pace, but the expectations are just a little different and more developmental to prepare students to take on the harder work in kindergarten,” Martinez said. “Kindergarten is not what it used to be. It is more challenging, so we modify the curriculum for young students. Instead of counting one to 30, for example, they are starting with just one to 10. For letter identification, instead of listing A through F on one line and then G through L on another and so on, all the letters are presented on one line so it is all sequential. It goes back a little to how we had kindergarten before we really amped it up in rigor. They dial the transitional program back and teach concepts slower so the kids can really understand them before moving on to the next thing. In kindergarten, there is a timeline where we expect kids to understand this by this time in the year, and then this by this time and so on. In Transitional Kindergarten, there is not really a time restriction.”

By implementing the Transitional Kindergarten program, Martinez added, students will have a better foundation that prepares them for first grade and beyond. By understanding the material, he said, students will be more confident in their school work as they continue on in elementary school and hopefully this will mean they are less likely to become disillusioned with school. Martinez said administrators and teachers don’t want kids to become disillusioned because it can cause some to dropout in high school or not pursue high education.

“The foundation for education is kindergarten and believe it or not, you do learn a lot in kindergarten and those concepts are built upon in first and second so if you don’t grasp it in kindergarten, you will struggle in future grades,” Martinez said. “I’m glad that finally there has been the recognition that this program is needed because so many students were struggling, which was not fair. We don’t want them to struggle because we don’t want kids to become disillusioned with school.”

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