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HUNNEMAN: Numbers, letters and tying your shoes

07.25.2013 | The Press-Enterprise | John Hunneman

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An estimated 3.5 million children will start kindergarten this fall and, for the first time in many years, that includes a member of our family.

While the school year for most in Southwest Riverside County begins in mid-August, the big day for first grandchild comes much earlier, Aug. 1, in Tucson, Ariz.

The other day, during our weekly video chat, Alex proudly showed off his new school shoes.

“They have laces,” he said. “That means I’m going to kindergarten.”

Alex, almost 6, has attended a private pre-school for two years, but now it’s on to public school which, in his case, is a K-8 charter school.

Where does the time go? That’s something I find myself asking about many things these days, not just this milestone.

It seems like just the other day I was writing about the magic of becoming a grandfather for the first time.

And wasn’t it just last week I wrote a column about holding our youngest son’s hand — Alex’s uncle, who is now 23 — as we walked to Avaxat Elementary School in Murrieta for his first day.

I still remember taking Alex’s father to kindergarten at North Broadway Elementary School in Escondido, and even that day doesn’t seem all that distant.

But it was, way back in 1983 to be precise.

Little did I think one day the little boy holding my hand in Escondido would someday be taking his own child to kindergarten to join the Class of 2026.

Across Southwest County, school districts are gearing up for the 2013-14 school year.

Kindergartners throughout California have had a new option in recent years with the implementation of “transitional kindergarten,” essentially a new grade level for younger kids who just miss the age cutoff birthdate for traditional kindergarten.

TKs, as they’re called, are taught the basics so the following year they’ll be ready for the rigors of regular kindergarten.

Menifee expects about 941 traditional and transitional kindergarten students next month. In Murrieta, the estimate is about 1,750, Lake Elsinore expects 1,683 and 1,648 are anticipated in Temecula.

Precise numbers won’t be known until about two weeks after schools open. Most local districts start classes the second full week of August.

“People who have just moved here may not realize when our children go back to school,” said Betty Cadmus, a spokeswoman for the Menifee Unified School District. “We always get some people who sign up late.”

The decision to enroll a child in TK, or kindergarten for that matter, is up to parents.

A recent federal study espoused what seems to be the obvious: Children who attend pre-school do better in kindergarten than those who don’t.

The study also found girls score higher than boys in the initial reading assessments, but scores were just about even when it came to math and science.

In addition, one quarter of first-time kindergarteners lived in households with incomes below the federal poverty level, and 15 percent lived in a home where English was not the primary language.

Finally, the education level of parents plays a role — children whose parents have college and post-graduate educations start kindergarten with higher reading levels than those whose parents had not completed high school.

Federal studies aside, when we chatted last week Alex, who knows his numbers and the alphabet, was excited about starting kindergarten with the exception of one obstacle standing in his way.

“I have to learn to tie my laces first,” he said.

Reach columnist John Hunneman at 951-375-3733 or jhunneman@pe.com.

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