MURRIETA: Transitional kindergarten program under way

11.12.2012 | The Press-Enterprise | Michelle L. Klampe

Students in Alicia Jaime’s class at Cole Canyon Elementary School wrote “I lik trkes!” then traced around their hands to create turkeys during a recent class.

“‘I’ is its own word. It doesn’t like to be snuggled up to the other words,” Jaime explained to her young students as they scrawled the letter on their papers.

A year ago, Jaime’s students would have been practicing their writing in kindergarten. This year, they are in a new program called transitional kindergarten.

A change in state law now requires that students must be 5 by Nov. 2 to enter kindergarten this year, instead of Dec. 2, the previous cut-off date. The date will move to Oct. 1 in 2013 and Sept. 1 in 2014 under the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010.

The act also requires school districts to offer an optional transitional kindergarten program for children affected by the change in cut-off dates. It is the first of a two-year kindergarten program with a curriculum designed to prepare students for traditional kindergarten.

Some schools had hoped to put off the launch of transitional kindergarten this year because of concerns over state funding for the program due to the state budget crisis. But the state Board of Education denied waivers for the program and southwest Riverside County school districts are offering it this year.

The Temecula Valley Unified District has 90 students in transitional kindergarten, 30 each at Abby Reinke, Ysabel Barnett and Pauba Valley elementary schools, district spokeswoman Melanie Norton said.

The Lake Elsinore Unified School District combined its transitional and regular kindergartens and is offering the transitional program at each of its elementary schools, said Marybeth Slane, director of elementary curriculum and instruction. In all, 106 students are enrolled, she said.

The Murrieta Valley Unified School District has the largest transitional kindergarten program in southwest Riverside County with about 130 students enrolled, district spokeswoman Karen Parris said. Classes are offered at Alta Murrieta, E. Hale Curran, Monte Vista, Cole Canyon and Avaxat elementary schools. Parents had to agree to participate in both years of the two-year program.

Along with the November birthdays, Jaime has students with summer and October birthdays in her class. The program also is helpful for students who are still learning English and should help prepare young students for rigorous new academic standards that are being introduced in schools, she said.

“The big push is developing oral language,” Jaime said. “There’s a lot more talking, storytelling, asking questions.”

One recent day, her students rotated through a series of activities, including two staffed by parent volunteers and a bank of computer stations, and the turkey exercise that Jaime oversaw. The program focuses on social skills, language development and learning through play.

“Almost everything they’re doing is hands-on,” Cole Canyon Principal Mike Marble said. “There are no worksheets.”

Parent Melissa Kelly said the program has been the right choice for her daughter, Jamasyn, whose birthday is in late October.

“I didn’t want her to be one of the youngest kids in class,” she said. “She loves to come to school.”

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