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Transition year now law before kindergarten

11.16.2011 | Merced Sun-Star | Yesenia Amaro

Local educators say they’re in favor of the new transitional kindergarten grade level that school districts in the state will begin to implement next school year. But funding and space challenges could emerge, officials said.

A new law — Senate Bill 1381 — will require students starting kindergarten to be 5 years of age before Sept. 1. Currently, the age requirement is for students to turn 5 before Dec. 2, according to the law’s fact sheet.

Under the new law, students who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 will be placed in transitional kindergarten, which will be followed by regular kindergarten. The new birth date requirement will be phased over three years, beginning next year. “It was a good move,” said Steven Gomes, superintendent of the Merced County Office of Education. “I’m in favor of students or children not starting (kindergarten) at 4 years old.”

Research has shown that students who enter kindergarten at an older age have a better chance of success all the way through their school career, Gomes said.

A benefit not all parents might understand is that this will give the youngest learners the opportunity to develop as individuals, said Michele McCabe, assistant superintendent for Education Services at the Atwater Elementary School District.

The Atwater Elementary School District is already testing the waters with two pilot classes — Just Five Classes — at two of its seven elementary school sites. “We are treating them as transitional kindergarten,” McCabe said.

At the beginning of the year, the class is almost like a preschool class, but by the end of the year it resembles a typical kindergarten class, she said.

Officials did a couple of classroom arrangements to accommodate the emotional and social aspects of the students in class, she said. They also adjusted the instruction.”For a 4-year-old entering kindergarten, it’s overwhelming,” she said.

Some parents choose to not put their 4-year-old in kindergarten and keep them at home for a year, McCabe said. The new law will give those students the opportunity to not fall behind. “It’s an equalizer in essence to be in school, get an education and not be lost in the system,” she said.

Robin Hopper, assistant superintendent for Educational Services at the Livingston Union School District, said the district is still working out the details for the implementation next year. Many in the district are pleased with the new law, she said.

It will give students a big boost in their schooling and will create a much more solid foundation than they would have with only one year of kindergarten, Hopper said. “I do believe that this is a great opportunity for our community and our students,” she said. “We are really looking at it as a gift of time” for the younger students.

Melinda Hennes, superintendent for the Atwater Elementary School District, said the state is being responsive to requests that had been made over the years to address the developmental levels involved in entering kindergarten. Officials at the district have confidence that the program will be implemented to truly benefit the younger kindergarten-age students.

Challenges are expected as local school districts begin to implement the additional grade level next year.

There are always challenges with funding, especially as the state is experiencing budget woes, Hopper said. The school district will use the same staff, but will spend on the curriculum and possibly new furniture, she added.

Last week, Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Dos Palos, spoke to a group of educators during the Transitional Kindergarten Implementation Summit. Simitian, who sponsored the bill, told educators that the new law had been a 25-year effort that had gone nowhere, according to a recorded video of his speech posted on his official website.

Thanks to the new law, a decade from now, the state should be able to witness better test scores, higher performance, reduction in retention and fewer students inappropriately being placed in special education, according to the video.

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