Transitional kindergarten debuts in O.C.

08.20.2012 | The Orange County Register | Irene Chung and Fermin Leal

Four-year-old Laura Sheng and her classmates at Landell Elementary in Cypress spent the morning Monday dabbing watercolors to draw out her rainbow. They learned how yellow follows orange, then flows into green on the color spectrum.

In the next lesson of the day, teacher Maureen Clair showed her students how to count and identify numbers 1 to 10, using hands, beans, pencils and other objects.

“These lessons have to be very hands on,” said Clair, who began teaching her school’s first-ever transitional kindergarten program when fall classes commenced last week. “Students at this age were once old enough for kindergarten. Now this class serves as a bridge for when they really begin kindergarten next year.”

Across Orange County, an estimated 1,500 children will begin transitional kindergarten classes over the next few weeks. The yearlong program aims to better prepare children who are now too young to enroll in traditional kindergarten – because of a change in state law – to work in an academic setting.

Transitional kindergarten offers more time and age-appropriate exposure that younger students need to fully develop before kindergarten, officials said.

“I think this is without a doubt the best intervention for young students that the state has provided us the opportunity to do in decades,” said Ken Valburg, the principal at Van Buren Elementary in Placentia, which will offer its first transitional kindergarten class when students return to school in September.

In transitional kindergarten, students will learn lessons including recognizing and writing numbers for counts and measures; experimenting with writing by keeping journals; learning about communities, countries and the world through stories and pictures; and using smell, taste, touch and sight to gather information.

The program will place a stronger emphasis on developmental skills. Some preschool programs may provide some of the same aspects, but the quality of programs can vary widely, educators said. Additionally, transitional kindergarten is free for parents, while preschool can cost thousands of dollars per year.

Transitional kindergarten “gives them an extra advantage on how to behave in school. It gives them a whole year on how to be a student and how to learn,” said Stephanie Scott, parent at Van Buren Elementary School in Placentia.

Educators said the introduction of this extended kindergarten program contributes to a prevalent trend in youth education as students now face demanding educational curricula at younger and younger ages.

The testing environment, college career paths, and parents who want to secure every opportunity for their children to be at the top of their class cause this growing push in academics, said Cathy Wietstock, administrator of Instructional Services at the Orange County Department of Education.

Since 2006, many districts throughout Orange County have run a program called Preppie K, similar to transitional kindergarten in that it gives younger students an extra year of academic preparation before they begin traditional kindergarten.

“We started to realize that a lot of the kids with the later birthdays were struggling. The retention numbers were a little higher than we were comfortable with for the younger kids,” said Beverlee Mathenia, director of Child Development for the Westminster School District, one of the districts that offered Preppie K.

Carrie Hernandez, a Preppie K teacher at Schmitt Elementary in Westminster, said children’s maturity levels can vary dramatically around the time for kindergarten, so many can benefit greatly from the extra preparation.

“They just need that extra year, that extra time,” she said. “The Preppie is really to get their young little muscles to get to hold their pencil and scissors correctly.”

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