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More archdiocesan schools offering 2-year kindergarten

03.07.2012 | Catholic San Francisco | Valerie Schmalz

Two Catholic schools are opening transitional kindergarten programs
this fall raising the number of “junior kindergarten” programs to at
least five among Archdiocese of San Francisco schools.

Already some have waiting lists as parents respond to the idea of the
“gift of time,” several Catholic schools reported. With transitional
kindergarten, younger children enroll for one year and then graduate to
another year in kindergarten before progressing to first grade.

Part of the impetus for the new Catholic school programs is a 2010 state
law that requires children to be older to start kindergarten and
mandates local school districts offer “transitional kindergarten”
options to the children affected by the change.

However, there is also widespread recognition among educators and
parents that most 4 year-olds and young 5-year-olds need another year
before they are ready for an increasingly academic kindergarten
curriculum. That belief also underlies passage of the 2010 Kindergarten
Readiness Act, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. Many
archdiocesan Catholic schools already require students turn 5 by Sept. 1
of the year they start, but California remained one of a handful of
states with a December cutoff date, said Our Lady of Loretto Principal
Annette Olinger.

Under SB 1381, the birth date cutoff will be moved from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1
over a three-year period, beginning in fall 2012. Next fall the date
moves from Dec. 2 to Nov. 1. By 2014, the cutoff date will be Sept. 1.

“Transitional kindergarten gives parents a new choice that is better
suited to the academic, emotional, social, and developmental needs of
their ‘young 5’ students,” said Olinger. The Novato Catholic elementary
school enrolled its first transitional kindergarten students in fall
2011, as did St. Raymond School in Menlo Park.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Redwood City and St. Anthony of
Padua-Immaculate Conception School in San Francisco will start the
programs in fall 2012. St. Hilary School in Tiburon began its “junior
kindergarten” in 2010, although some form of a primary kindergarten has
been offered for six or seven years, the school said.

Transitional kindergarten programs are separate from pre-kindergarten
programs because they fall under the state’s school standards while
pre-K and “young 5” programs are subject to regulations that apply to
preschools and day care centers. The new state law gives Catholic
schools the flexibility to start a junior kindergarten program without
getting entangled in another set of state regulations.

At Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Principal Teresa Anthony said the school’s
longtime standard that children must be 5 by Sept. 1 often sent children
to public schools for kindergarten. “Now we can offer those children
the opportunity of a high quality early learning experience in a
Catholic setting while building their confidence as they move to the
next level of academic success,” Anthony said in a statement.

“Junior kindergarten is more play-based with more emphasis on
social-emotional development,” said St. Hilary Principal Charley Hayes.
The curriculum is similar to what kindergarten was like 20 or 30 or more
years ago, he said. “The schedule is a little more flexible. Lunch
could be at 11:30, but if the kids are really hungry, they might eat at
11:15 a.m.,” Hayes said.

St. Raymond already has seen a difference in the students who have the
“gift of a year” in the transitional kindergarten program, said
Principal Tara Rolle. “Our transitional kindergarten students feel self
assured on campus, have greatly improved classroom decorum skills and
academically have made great improvements in gross motor skills,
writing, sight words and reading,” the Menlo Park Catholic school
principal said.

Rolle said the programs meet the needs of students who were coming in
with widely varied preparation and developmental levels. “The demand for
next school year is quite high which we interpret to be not only a
commentary on the excellence of the program, but the need for a
transitional program for children in our community,” Rolle said.

In a related development, parents who plan to enroll their children in
transitional kindergarten in the San Francisco Unified School District
have hit a snag. The public school district issued a statement saying it
did not plan to start a transitional kindergarten, although it did say
if it was required to, it would at two early education schools in the
city.

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