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Transitional kindergarten debuts at 42 schools

09.20.2012 | The Tidings Online | Paula Doyle

Stephen Ornelas’ four-year-old daughter was looking forward to being a student.

“She liked being around other kids, having fun, learning — she just watched on TV how other kids go to school and she wanted to do the same thing,” said Ornelas, a parishioner at St. Andrew Church in Pasadena since childhood.

“We found out that our church was going to have a transitional kindergarten, so we enrolled her. She’s in and she’s loving it,” Ornelas told The Tidings while waiting to volunteer at the school on a day off from work Sept. 7.

His daughter is among 13 TK students at St. Andrew, one of the 42 Catholic elementary schools in the archdiocese pioneering transitional kindergarten, the first year of a two-year kindergarten program. Currently, more than 575 local Catholic school elementary students are enrolled in transitional kindergarten, which offers a modified kindergarten curriculum that is age and developmentally appropriate.

“We took the pre-school standards from the state and also the kindergarten standards and created a mid-point between them to be able to provide a two-year kindergarten program,” said Jennifer Beltramo, archdiocesan director of elementary school curriculum.

She noted that the archdiocese’s TK curriculum reflects a balance between pre-school’s focus on social/emotional development and kindergarten’s concentration on academic development. If TK and kindergarten are combined in the same classroom, as they are in about half of the participating schools, the two groups follow their developmentally-specific lesson plans supervised by the school’s kindergarten teacher.

“It would work the same way that a combo class might work in any other grade level,” said Beltramo. A kindergarten teacher and aide, for example, can each oversee different group activities in the same classroom. “It’s very easy to handle that, especially with the younger ages, because they do lots of things like circle time,” she explained.

Kathy Delgado, archdiocesan regional elementary school supervisor and TK director, noted that she received numerous inquiries at Our Lady of the Valley in Canoga Park (where she was previously principal), asking if the school took 4-year-olds. The school had to turn away these prospective parents of four-year-olds until this year, when Our Lady of the Valley enrolled nine new TK students, bringing its two-year kindergarten program to a total of 22 students.

“I see a lot of advantages for parishes and for schools with younger families coming in, such as having siblings all in one place,” said Delgado. Also, she adds, having a TK helps to boost enrollment in Catholic schools competing with tuition-free public schools.

A 2010 state law, The Kindergarten Readiness Act, requires public school districts in California to set up transitional kindergarten programs for younger-age students (especially those born in the fall and winter). However, as no extra state funding was provided to set up TK programs, the state allows districts flexibility on implementation and, currently, public school officials only have to set up one TK classroom per district, according to a recent article in the Pasadena Star News.

“Parents were saying, ‘This is something we were looking for,’” said Dr. Ken Foersch, principal at St. Andrew, where the TK students have their own classroom next to the kindergarten classroom on the ground floor of the two-story school in Pasadena. “This has been big.”

Foersch noted that some TK school families also enrolled older siblings in the school. This helped equalize the enrollment gap left by the school’s large graduating class and boosted enrollment to 207 students — an increase of three students over last year.

“So far, the TK is going great,” said Maria Rennard, St. Andrew’s kindergarten teacher. “Having that year of time, and being able to learn at their own pace, [helps] students get ready for kindergarten.”

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