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Schools required to offer transitional kindergarten

01.02.2012 | San Jose Mercury News | Casey Jay

Helping young children with homework used to mean practicing the alphabet or coloring in shapes.

Nowadays, 5- and 6-year-olds work on academic lessons that even their parents may find confusing. According to a release from the Campbell Union School District, California’s curriculum and standards have changed over the years, and many of the skills that students are now taught in kindergarten were once taught in first grade.

Until recently, the state’s kindergarten cut-off date was Dec. 2, meaning that a quarter of all children started school at age 4. This early start often resulted in scholastic and social challenges for younger students in kindergarten and beyond.

But with a new California law, many students will now have two years to learn the basics before they enter first grade. The Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 provides a bridge between preschool and kindergarten that is specially designed for students who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2.

The law created a new grade called transitional kindergarten, a class intended to give the “young 5” age group a strong foundation for success in elementary school. Schools across the state are required to offer transitional kindergarten beginning in 2012.

All districts were given two options: They can phase in the program by moving the kindergarten cutoff date one month a year for three years, or they can implement it completely in 2012. While local districts may differ in their method of execution, they all seem to agree that transitional kindergarten will be a huge asset to young students.

“The law requires us to do it this year, but it was our decision to go full scale,” said Eric Andrew, superintendent of the Campbell Union School District. “It’s a great opportunity to give kids the gift of time to be even more prepared, and our board really believed that we have the capacity to implement fully.”

Andrew says that the district will use existing faculty to teach the new classes and that the curriculum will be molded to fit in with existing classes.

“We believe it’s really in great alignment with what we want to do,” he said. “We have preschool at a lot of our schools, so we plan to align preschool with transitional kindergarten and continue that alignment through kindergarten. So in many cases, some of these kids will have three years before first grade.”

Andrew added that pending decent enrollment figures, CUSD plans to roll out transitional kindergarten at nearly all of the district’s nine elementary schools.

“Our initial plan is to have it at all schools with the exception of Village School because of its size,” he said.

In contrast, the Saratoga Union School District has just three elementary schools and currently offers only special education preschool. Diane Smalley, director of education services for SUSD, says that in the process of establishing its transitional kindergarten class, the district will be examining local standards and formulating its own.

“We’re implementing a task force of kindergarten and first-grade teachers that are visiting schools and gathering information,” Smalley said, adding that in the end, the curriculum for the future program will blend with Saratoga’s values.

“It’s state-mandated, but there’s lots of flexibility,” she said.

Smalley has already heard from some families whose children fall into the “young 5” category and said that while many are interested, some might be concerned about their children not being challenged enough.

“One thing about transitional kindergarten I’m not sure people understand is that if a child is developmentally and academically ready for first grade, they can move to first grade,” Smalley said. “We wouldn’t want to hold anybody back.”

The Los Gatos Union School District board of trustees discussed transitional kindergarten at its meeting on Dec. 13 and decided to phase the program in over the next three years. According to Diana Abbati, superintendent for the district, they plan to promote transitional kindergarten in January and track the feedback from the community.

“It’s important that interested parents register their children,” Abbati said.

Until the numbers start to come in, she says she is not sure how many of the district’s four schools will offer transitional kindergarten. But the board does have an idea of how the classes might operate.

“It’s going to be play-based with a focus on literacy, math and problem-solving,” Abbati said.

She added that interested families should attend the transitional kindergarten parent information meetings that will be held in January and February.

For more information, visit the Campbell, Los Gatos and Saratoga district websites at www.campbellusd.org, www.lgusd.k12.ca.us and www.saratogausd.org.

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