Preschool, transitional kindergarten programs prepare students for schools in Tulare County

08.08.2013 | Visalia Times-Delta | Crystal Morales

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The beginning of the schoolyear is upon Tulare County and some children will be starting school for the first time. And because more students are taking preschool or transitional kindergarten, teachers are enjoying more model students than ever.

Districts in Tulare are starting school Thursday and Visalia Unified will start next week. Both districts offer transitional kindergarten and preschool options. School members from both districts said that having more students who went through these programs before kindergarten has created a calmer atmosphere for other students.

Tulare’s Heritage Elementary School principal, Elaine Sewell, said she remembered times when students would get really scared and then, in turn, make other students scared. The impact of preschool and transitional kindergarten programs was incredible.

“Oh, my goodness, so many criers,” Sewell said. “I could not believe the difference the following year.”

Transitional kindergarten (TK) gives students an extra year to mature and prepares students for the academic and social expectations of kindergarten the following year. Students in TK are integrated into regular kindergarten classes and are assessed at the end of the school year to decide whether they need to go into kindergarten or move on to first grade.

Doug Bartsch, assistant superintendent for Visalia Unified, said that of the students who were in TK last year in Visalia, about 44 percent of them will advance to first grade. The district is finding that a child’s maturity cannot be distinguished solely on their age and some kids are benefiting from the extra year, Bartsch said.

“It just tells us, look at every child individually and don’t assume,” Bartsch said. “I guess that’s the bottom line, we know the child so much better than we did a year ago.”

Another tool parents can use to give their child experience in a school setting is preschool.

Tulare City School’s Jennifer Marroquin, preschool coordinator for the district, said participating in a preschool program can help little ones become independent and acquire social skills including confidence, sharing and playing well with others.

Preschool also offers a smaller setting for students to adjust, said preschool teacher Rosa Silveira. One of the problems Silveira sees most commonly in new kindergartners is separation anxiety and lack of social skills development.

There are a lot of ways parents can help with the transition into kindergarten, said Sarah Seymore, a special assignment teacher with curriculum.

“The more positive you are with your child about their experience, the more at ease and less anxious they will be,” Seymore said.

Parents can also establish a routine sleeping and waking schedule for their children early so they are not shocked when school starts. Parents in Visalia who have not started school yet, as well as future kindergarten parents, are also encouraged to visit the school before the start of the semester so their children can become comfortable with their surroundings.

Before Tulare schools began their first day, parents of new kindergartners were invited to orientations throughout the district.

Part of the orientation at Heritage Elementary School involved a tour of the campus as well as a reminder to parents to let their child go to school and trust the teachers. Sometimes, teachers said, parents are more nervous that the student.

“I am shocked, she’s so excited,” Kimberlee Evans said of her daughter, Evie Barajas. “She’s been asking me all last week, ‘When do we go to school?’”

Evans said Evie is her first child, so having her daughter go to school is a first for her as well. Evie attended preschool, so she was fairly calm at the idea of going to school. While relieved that her daughter seems to be adjusting quickly, Evans said she is nervous to let her daughter go to school all day long.

This is normal, said Heritage kindergarten teacher Charlotte Medeiros. Her daughter is also going into kindergarten for the first time and she said she understands the anxiety of parents.

Additional advice Medeiros offered, along with being positive and excited about school when talking to children, was to label everything students come to school with as sometimes things can get left behind — a label helps teachers identify what belongs to who.

Members from both districts also encourage parents to talk with their child’s teacher to get to know them and the school.

“If you talk to kindergarten teachers, I think they realize that they are the gateway to the rest of their education,” Seymore said.

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