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Preppy K preps students for kindergarten

10.17.2011 | Morgan Hill Times | Angela Ruggiero

At 7:45 a.m. classroom 21 at El Toro Elementary is buzzing with children sitting crossed legged on a multi-colored rug, their eyes wide as their teacher points to sentences and shapes on a board.

“I see a yellow circle. I see a green square,” read the energetic children out loud in unison.

Amid the light-up sneakers and cartoon T-shirts, these young students look like they’re in a typical kindergarten class. Yet this bunch of 26 students are special: they are attending Morgan Hill Unified School District’s first Preppy K or transitional kindergarten class for children who will turn 5 before Dec. 2, 2011.

After the passage of the Kindergarten Readiness Act in 2010, the requirement to enter kindergarten will change from having a child’s fifth birthday by Sept. 1 to Dec. 2. That leaves the “young five’s” crowd with birthdays in summer or fall in a statewide change of a year in transitional kindergarten.

Although the bill doesn’t go into full effect until the 2014-2015 school year with transitions beginning in fall of 2012, MHUSD is getting an early start to Preppy-K this year with a pilot program at El Toro Elementary.

“I think we’ve taken a proactive stance by spearheading a prototype of what it would look like for Preppy K,” said El Toro Principal Patrick Buchser. “You wont find that in California anywhere. It’s very unique what you see in there.”

The four-and-a-half-hour class, which Buchser calls a “smart start” baseline for students, is modeled in the staggered kindergarten form. Half the students arrive at 7:45 a.m. while the second half comes in at 9:25 a.m. After some overlap, the first group leaves at 12:20 p.m. while the second at 2 p.m. giving the benefit of more individualized focus time in a small group setting.

Children in the class won’t necessarily fit into the jurisdiction of El Toro as their home school. In fact, most of the children currently attending Preppy K will return to their home schools for kindergarten, Buchser said.

Preppy K teacher Jeanne Berry has 20 years of teaching kindergarten at El Toro under her belt, in the very same classroom where Preppy K now takes place.

“The biggest difference between Preppy K and kindergarten is it’s giving the children that extra year to grow,” Berry said.

She said the class focuses on oral language building skills and building a foundation for students that will prepare them for kindergarten the next year.

“What I’m trying to work on is building a lot of oral language, definitely the foundational skills like letters, sounds, lots of auditory phonics and hearing the beginning sounds in words,” Berry said.

The students still do some of the typical kindergarten-like activities such as drawing and coloring pictures of animals they saw at the fair on their field trip several weeks ago. Or the classic favorite: making geometric shapes out of Play-Doh.

California Content Standards require kindergarten students to able to read and write about experiences, stories, people and three connected sentences by the end of their kindergarten year.

Transitional kindergarten is funded by the money that would have been used for regular kindergarten, at no extra cost to the state or district by using existing teachers and facilities.

Last year, parent Keri Schofield thought her son Drake would be attending Nordstrom Elementary as a kindergartner; She was one of the many parents that camped out all night for a registration spot.

Yet after getting him registered, she heard through another parent that Berry was passing out information about a transitional kindergarten class. During the time, Berry was putting up posters in different schools and spreading the word about the class by holding informational meetings.

After Schofield and her husband attended the meeting, they re-thought if their child was ready for kindergarten, his birthday is in early November.

“Some people push their child too hard, too fast,” Schofield said. “(Preppy K) was definitely the best decision we’ve ever made. Now he’s becoming more confident.”

Mother Caitlyn Otterstorm was more hesitant about signing up her daughter Jocelyn for Preppy K. She and her husband decided to postpone kindergarten for Jocelyn by a year so that she would have an advantage of being an older child in her class and be more socially and emotionally ready, she said.

After hearing about Preppy K by other mothers, Otterstorm called the district. Still wary, a representative told her that if they didn’t think the class was a good fit, they could just remove their daughter and begin kindergarten the next year.

“I figured we would give it a try knowing that we had an ‘out’ and enrolled her in Preppy K somewhat hesitant and skeptical,” Otterstorm said.

She was pleasantly surprised to find that Preppy K was a good match for Jocelyn.

“It has, on the contrary, been a wonderful solution. Not only does my daughter love going most of the time, she is able to have an academically, socially and emotionally fostering experience that will help her not only succeed, but excel in kindergarten next year,” she said.

The class is now growing in popularity and has a waiting list for next year.

“I feel that all the parents who chose to put their child in transitional kindergarten are very knowledgeable and they understand that their child will have a much easier journey through school,” Berry said.

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