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Long Beach Ahead Of Curve With Preppy Kindergarten

08.10.2011 | Long Beach Gazette | Ashleigh Oldland

Long Beach Unified School District is taking early steps to prepare for the state’s upcoming changes to kindergarteners’ age requirements.

Legislation signed last year by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will require students to be 5 years old by Sept. 1, rather than the current Dec. 1 deadline. The change in age requirements, called the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, will not be phased into effect until the 2012-2013 academic year — the change will be phased in one month at a time in a three-year period.

But LBUSD officials said they aren’t waiting to start offering transitional kindergarten programs for students who would be impacted by the change. Instead, the district has been offering preppy kindergarten classes at two schools for several years and now will roll out transitional kindergarten classes at 23 school sites.

“This topic has been on the burner for many years with our kindergarten teachers, and the whole bill had been in the works for four or five years,” said LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser. “Here in Long Beach, we offered some Preppy Kindergarten classes in anticipation that something would come down someday.”

Steinhauser said that the district wants to get an early start on offering transitional kindergarten before most other districts in the state roll out their own programs.

“We are so excited about this opportunity and have secured some grant money (more than $100,000) specially for this program,” he said. “We see this as a way to help the state work out some bugs ahead of time. We, and six other districts, are going to share best practices.”

Jill Baker, LBUSD’s assistant superintendent for elementary, middle and K-8 schools, said transitional kindergarten will be optional for students until the state law takes effect. She said transitional kindergarten, which is designed to be followed by a regular kindergarten class, is more rigorous than preschool but less academic than a true kindergarten class.

“Transitional kindergarten allows students to experience just the earliest things in kindergarten to help them be ready,” she said. “Things like socializing and talking and communicating to the teacher. We get them acclimated to coming to school. Some students would really benefit from having that extra year of school.”

Baker added that the class size ratio is 20 students per teacher, rather than the 30 students to one teacher ratio at the kindergarten level. About 25% of the district’s currently enrolled kindergarteners (an average class size of about 5,500 to 6,000 students) would be eligible for transitional kindergarten, which will change from being optional to being a requirement as the law is phased in.

For the school district, adding transitional kindergarten classes also will bring in some additional per-pupil funding, Baker said.

At Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP), Dion Jackson, vice president of business development, said she supports the legislation to change kindergarten age requirements and add transitional kindergarten courses at school districts because it means more students will go to transitional kindergarten earlier and free up spaces on LAUP preschool waiting lists.

“This allows more students to get the support they need before they go to kindergarten,” she said. “Most states have the Sept. 1 deadline and it is so important in those formative years for children to get a lot of stimulation and learn to socialize.”

After teaching preppy kindergarten at Cleveland Elementary School since the class was first offered four years ago, Kris Damon said she’s ready to serve as a teacher trainer for LBUSD’s transitional kindergarten classes this year.

She supports the legislation, which she said brings California up to kindergarten age standards required in most states.

“The younger children need a little extra TLC and a push to succeed in their first educational experience,” she said. “We want an earlier intervention to avoid having to make these students repeat the same class. And, we are going to track these students from transitional kindergarten through their high school graduation and see if this makes an impact.”

Damon said the difference between transitional kindergarten and kindergarten is that students in transitional have more play incorporated into their days at school and teachers are taught how to work with students who typically have less fine motor skills and shorter attention spans than older kindergarten students. She added that kindergarteners are expected to write about three sentences by the end of the year, but transitional kindergarteners will end the year being able to write one sentence.

“I’ve seen this be an early, wonderful school experience for children and I am excited to see it impact even more students and get them off to a great start,” she said. “I think this will have long-reaching effects.”

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