Fresh faces, fresh approaches as kids head back to school

07.31.2012 | | Dana M. Nichols

VALLEY SPRINGS – The first day of transitional kindergarten exceeded Aiden Tremain’s expectations.

A few minutes before the first day of school began for Aiden and about 475 other students at Valley Springs Elementary School, someone asked the 4-year-old boy what he expected to do in kindergarten.

“Nothing,” Aiden said confidently. “I learn in my head.”

Within minutes, however, teacher Autumn Hesser moved Aiden out of his head and into a garden.

“This is basil, and it is yummy,” Hesser told Aiden and the other 22 children clustered around her. Moments later, she opened a fresh-picked sweet pepper and Aiden got to pluck out a seed, which he eyed closely.

Hesser’s class reflects two of the significant developments this year at the school: An expanded garden that allows students to pick and eat a variety of produce; and classrooms that combine the new transitional kindergarten grade with kindergarten.

Transitional kindergarten was created by state law. Traditionally, students born between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 could enter kindergarten the calendar year they turned 5 even if they were 4 when the school year started.

Now, however, those who are born in that period can’t enter kindergarten but can attend a year of transitional kindergarten followed by a year of traditional kindergarten.

In Calaveras Unified, the transitional and traditional kindergartners share the same classrooms, although the transitional kinders go home earlier.

“It’s a gift of time, an extra year of kindergarten,” Hesser said.

The number of high school graduates leaving Calaveras Unified continues to be larger each year than the number of kindergartners arriving.

Calaveras Unified Superintendant Mark Campbell said Monday the district appears on track to have between 3,210 and 3,220 students this year. That’s a decline of roughly 70 from last year, or a little more than 2 percent.

“All of our layoffs for this year were the result of declining enrollment,” Campbell said.

Depending on state finances, shrinking revenues mean that class sizes next year could rise to as many as 30 in K-3 classrooms, rather than the 23 students Monday in Aiden’s class.

“We are hanging on as best we can,” Campbell said.

Contact reporter Dana M. Nichols at (209) 607-1361 or

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