Looks like school, feels like school

07.31.2012 | | Keith Reid

STOCKTON – It’s 11 a.m., and a timid Annika Cheng clutched her mother’s hand and kept her feet planted firmly on the concrete about 2 feet away from her new classroom at Podesta Ranch Elementary School in north Stockton.

The 4-year-old’s face started to scrunch. Her eyes watered. She was nervous about her first day of transitional kindergarten, a new program for children who will not turn 5 until November and miss the age cutoff date for kindergarten.

“Oh, well, why don’t we come on in,” teacher Diane Johnson asked. “Everything’s going to be OK, and Mom will be right back to get you at 2:20.”

Once inside the classroom, Annika gained her composure and joined reading time with the rest of her classmates.

“I think (transitional kindergarten) is good thing for her,” said her mother, Maggie Wu. “She’s still young and getting more mature. This will make her more ready for school.”

The transitional kindergartners joined roughly 28,000 other Lodi Unified students in returning to school for the 2012-13 school year on Monday. Lodi and Calaveras unified school districts have the earliest starting dates among districts in San Joaquin and Calaveras counties, where over the next three weeks, children will be returning to school.

Some, such as Annika and her classmates, are the first “young 5-year-old” students in the Lodi district’s history to attend the class that is more advanced than preschool but less rigorous than kindergarten.

School officials all across California were encouraged to open the transitional classes, even amid budget cuts, to coincide with the State Board of Education’s decision to move the birthday cutoff for kindergarten enrollment. In past years, children needed to turn 5 by Dec. 1. This year, kindergartners must turn 5 by Nov. 1, and the date will roll back to Sept. 1 in 2014.

Studies show that children who enter kindergarten at the age of 4 and turn 5 in October, November, and December, often fall behind their older counterparts academically, Lodi Unified Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Catherine Pennington said. Dialing back the enrollment age requirement and starting a transitional kindergarten gives those students an extra year of preparation that educators hope will provide higher academic success in the long term.

“They have been entering kindergarten so young and they are not really developmentally ready,” Pennington said. “This gives them a chance for two years of kindergarten work before first grade.”

In Lodi Unified, there are four transitional kindergarten classes – two each at Podesta Ranch in north Stockton and Lawrence Elementary in Lodi.

At Lawrence, teachers Kim Day and Melissa McClelland rolled out identical first-day lesson plans for their new pupils. The day started with introductions to classroom rules and included the reading of the classic children’s book “The Gingerbread Man.”

Then, the classes took tours around the school searching for paper gingerbread men that were at important places on the campus that the children should become familiar with – such as the office and cafeteria – before they arrived back at the classroom to find real gingerbread man cookies for a snack.

“It’s really a great way to get them ready for kindergarten,” Day said. “This year we will introduce them to all kinds of things, like walking in single-file lines, using scissors and holding a pencil. They should know the alphabet, and some will be reading.”

Contact reporter Keith Reid at (209) 546-8257 or Visit his blog at

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