El Monte’s Nativity Catholic gives kids a jump start

09.06.2012 | San Gabriel Valley Tribune | Claudia S. Palma

Like their public school counterparts, some local Catholic schools have begun offering young children a jump start on their education with transitional kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Nativity Catholic School in El Monte is among them.

“All the teachers here are excited about this new venture as they know the caliber of students they have now and can only imagine how much more prepared the students will be with this so important beginning stage,” Nativity principal Sister Stacy Reineman said.

The school began offering the new grade when school started last month.

In transitional kindergarten, or TK, children participate in a full-day program incorporating fine motor skills, social skills, movement, beginning phonics, math and religion.

Students that start and continue at Nativity from kindergarten all the way up to eighth grade are sometimes more successful than those who start at a later grade at the school, Reineman said.

“That’s what we try to tell the parents, that the earlier you bring them, the more you’re setting them up for success,” she said.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles encouraged local Catholic schools to offer TK, providing them with curriculum and materials.

“Parents have been asking me for a preschool. It’s a whole lot cheaper than preschool,” Reineman said.

TK at Nativity will cost less than $350 a month.

The difference between TK and preschool is preschool does not traditionally have a curriculum, and not all preschools offer the learning programs that transitional kindergarten does, Reineman said.

Nativity teacher Sara Diaz, who studied early childhood development, will lead the TK class.

“We are designing a program that will give them a heads up – introduce them to going to school,” Diaz said. “In TK they’re learning the very basic structure of a book, they learn what sharing is about, socializing, time structure… As academic as it sounds, they think they’re playing. It’s really about exposure, tapping that part of the brain.”

Before TK, kindergarten teachers at the school faced classes of young students with a wide variety of education backgrounds, creating challenges.

“So what we have is a room full of kids with a different levels of skills,” she said. “Through TK, (incoming kindergarten students) will have the same or similar skills.”

Kindergarten teacher Lucy Camarena said she is excited because of how it will help her when the students get to her class.

“By the time they come into my classroom, they’re more socially prepared, more mature,” she said. “Believe it or not in a few months there’s a huge difference. There isn’t the pressures of the kindergarten standards, they get to go at their own pace.”

Robyn Lopez of Montclair has a son at Nativity who will be an incoming second-grader and another 4-year-old son going into TK this year.

“I’m hoping it’s a big stepping stone,” she said. “I’m hoping he gets more out of TK than just the three hours a day he goes to at preschool.”

Sacred Heart Catholic school in Covina will also start TK this fall. Principal April Luchonok said they have had requests from parents for an early education program and decided now was the time to take advantage of it.

“We’re very excited,” she said. “I have parents now who have 3-year-olds that are excited knowing TK will be available for their children.”

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