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Local teachers, officials happy with new kindergarten law; schools will offer transitional program beginning 2012-2013

01.15.2012 | Times-Standard | Jessica Cejnar


A dozen small voices
filled Jani Ayers’ classroom on a frigid morning at Alice Birney
Elementary School. Most were seated quietly near Ayers’ chair, reading
in unison about a hungry rabbit and an unlucky snowman. But for one
student, reading with her classmates proved to be a daunting task.

While
most of her classmates were seated with their eyes on the teacher, this
kindergartner lay on her back, her legs stretched out, her hands
playing with her skirt. When Ayers had them finish illustrating a book
about the rabbit and the snowman, the girl draped herself over her chair
until the teacher came to help her. Most adults might have thought this
kindergartner was acting out, but Ayers knows better.

”She turned 5 at the end of October,” the teacher explained. “She’s doing the best she can. She’s made a lot of progress.”

Ayers
and her colleague Ligia Ray, who teaches Alice Birney’s dual language
immersion kindergarten class, say many of the students that struggle in
their classes are 4 years old when they start school. Many of their
older students enter kindergarten already knowing how to read, Ayers
said, but some of the younger ones can’t write their letters or numbers.
Many of their classmates are reading small sentences, but for the
younger students, just sitting still can be difficult, Ayers said.

This is why Ayers, Ray and other teachers have been after state lawmakers for more than 15 years to establish an earlier cutoff age for kindergartners.
California is one of the few states that allow children to enter
kindergarten when they’re 4, they say. The Legislature responded in 2010
by passing the Kindergarten Readiness Act, which will ultimately change
the cutoff age so all students are 5 when they enter kindergarten.


The
law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, also established a transitional
program aimed at students now too young to attend traditional
kindergarten. It’s part of a two-year program that bridges the gap
between public preschool and traditional kindergarten. In previous
years, parents could enroll their children in kindergarten as long as
they turned 5 by Dec. 2.

But if Governor Brown’s proposed state
budget is voted into law by legislators, funding for the transitional
program will be axed.

Under the Kindergarten Readiness Act,
Humboldt County school districts would have directed children whose 5th
birthday occurs after Nov. 1 to enroll in transitional kindergarten
beginning next fall rather than traditional kindergarten. Because of
Brown’s budget proposal, the question of whether transitional
kindergarten will be funded again rests with the Legislature, said Cindi
Kaup, regional coordinator for the California Preschool Instructional
Network, which trains preschool teachers.

”It’s a really
difficult thing because districts are planning to make these changes in
the fall,” Kaup said. “They put a lot of hard work into developing a
whole new grade and how they’re going to transition it in, and now the
governor is coming out with this idea of cutting it.”

The
Kindergarten Readiness Act, or Senate Bill 1381, moves that minimum age
cutoff for admittance into kindergarten to Nov. 1 for the 2012-13
school year. The age cutoff will shift again in the 2013-2014 school
year, mandating that children must turn 5 by Oct. 1 to enroll in
traditional kindergarten. For the 2014-2015 school year, a child must
turn 5 before Sept. 1 to enroll in traditional kindergarten.

In
his latest budget, Brown proposed a permanent elimination of the
transitional kindergarten program, which would save $223.7 million in
2012-13 and $672 million in 2014-15. Humboldt County Superintendent of
Schools Garry Eagles says he’s encouraging local school districts to
offer transitional kindergarten next year even if the governor’s budget
doesn’t provide funding.

”Ultimately, if the governor’s budget
doesn’t provide funding, then local districts will be at risk to cover
the shortfall,” he said. “I think one has to look at the big picture,
and I’m encouraging all local districts to really examine that risk
factor and give great consideration to implementing a voluntary
transitional program.”

Ray, who has taught kindergarten for 29
years at Alice Birney Elementary School, said that early in her career
she was teaching students the alphabet and how each letter sounds. As
the state’s academic standards for kindergarten increased, her
curriculum became more rigorous.

Children who are 4 when they
enter kindergarten are still learning social skills like sharing and
self-regulation, Ray said. Many find it difficult to sit through long
lessons and tire more easily than their older classmates. Some younger
kindergartners are also often frustrated because they struggle, she
said.

”Every child develops at their own pace,” she said. “The
children I notice who have difficulty are (ones with) the November
birthdays. But developmentally they’re where they should be.”

Transitional
kindergarten will continue to help students build the language, motor
and social skills they would have learned in preschool, Kaup said. Even
though the school districts offer preschools to their students, 50
percent of California kids don’t go to preschool, she said. Forty-five
percent of those students are English language learners.

”You
have a high number of kids who haven’t attended any kind of preschool
experience,” Kaup said. “This drastically affects how well kids do.”

Between
now and next fall, Eureka City Schools will discuss the curriculum its
transitional kindergarten will follow, what class materials will be
required and what its goals for the students will be despite the
possibility of the program’s funding being cut, said Interim
Superintendent Lee Ann Lanning. Most superintendents countywide are
willing to plan the transitional kindergarten program for the fall and
hope that the governor changes his mind, she said.

The district
had initially planned to offer the transitional kindergarten program to
all potential kindergartners whose 5th birthdays fall between September
and December in the program’s first year, Lanning said. Because of the
governor’s proposed budget, the district may offer the transitional
kindergarten program just to students with 5th birthdays in November,
she said.

”We haven’t said we’re going to give up on that
concept. We’re still planning for it,” Lanning said. “But whether or not
it’ll happen in the manner in which it would have, certainly that could
change. I think we’re also waiting for more clarification on what does
(the governor) exactly mean by what he said.”

For information on Governor Brown’s budget proposal, visit www.ebudget.ca.gov.

 

At a glance:

What is transitional kindergarten?

* A bridge between preschool and kindergarten for kids who will be 5 between September and December.

* It is part of the public school system and is free.

*
It uses a hands-on, interactive approach to student development while
getting them ready for the academic standards of kindergarten.

* It is taught by credentialed teachers with extra training to teach young kindergartners.

* It is the first year of a two-year program with the child enrolling in a traditional kindergarten class in the second year.

 

Source: California Department of Education.

 

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at 441-0504 or at jcejnar@times-standard.com.

Click here for original article and photo.

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