Op-Ed:Giving young 5-year-olds the gift of time before school

09.24.2010 | Palo Alto Daily News | Sharon Keplinger

This fall, as families across California ease into the school season, many of Palo Alto’s kindergartners will begin school more prepared for success because of the important skills they learned in Palo Alto’s Young Fives program.

For the past 35 years, Young Fives has been giving the gift of time to our district’s youngest kindergartners, providing them with an additional year to develop the skills that will put them on the path to academic success. With 120,000 4-year-olds entering kindergarten every year in California, programs like Young Fives are essential to ensuring all our children begin school ready to learn.

California is one of only four states that sets a cutoff date as late as Dec. 1 for kindergarten; at the same time, we have some of the most rigorous state standards for what we expect our children to learn in our kindergarten classrooms.

That is why we are excited that Sen. Joe Simitian has decided to address this critical issue and help close the kindergarten age gap with the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, which will change the kindergarten entry date in California from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, so children enter kindergarten at age 5. The legislation will also create a year of transitional kindergarten, similar to Young Fives, to provide 4-year-olds with birthdays between September and December with an additional year to master skills our youngest learners are routinely expected to develop before kindergarten.

Research shows changing the date for kindergarten entry so children begin kindergarten at an older age would increase test scores by as much as 27 percent in California. Additionally, we know high-quality early learning programs like Young Fives and Simitian’s proposed transitional kindergarten boost children’s chances of success in school and in life, and help close the achievement gap.

As an educator and administrator with the Young Fives program, I have observed firsthand the positive impact the program has had on our district’s youngest learners, and on our community. During my 15 years as the Young Fives program coordinator, I have seen many children thrive during their year in Young Fives and go on to achieve great academic success in college and even graduate school.

That is why when I decided to enroll my own daughter, Erin, in the Young Fives program 22 years ago, I was confident that my decision would support her academic future. After excelling in high school, Erin went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, followed by a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the University of San Francisco. Erin attributes much of her success to the skills she learned in her Young Fives class.

High-quality early childhood programs build a bridge between early learning and kindergarten and are critical to ensuring children succeed in early elementary and beyond.

I applaud Simitian’s efforts to take this important step toward reforming our state’s K-12 education system. This is the first time in at least two decades that such a proposal has passed both houses of the Legislature, and I urge Gov. Schwarzenegger to take this historic opportunity to establish his legacy as a champion for education reform.

Sharon Keplinger is program coordinator for the Palo Alto Unified School District.

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