Transitional kindergarten gives students extra school year

10.27.2012 | San Diego Union Tribune | Gary Warth

ESCONDIDO — Some parents throughout the state are taking advantage of a new program that can give their children a head start in school and change the age they will be when they graduate.

Transitional kindergarten was introduced at California schools this semester as the first step in changing the eligibility age for students entering kindergarten and first grade.

Some districts, including San Marcos Unified, allow students who are eligible for traditional kindergarten to also attend transitional kindergarten, giving them a second year of school and making them older when they graduate.

That was particularly appealing to Kendal Salisbury, who has twins at Paloma School in the district.

“I didn’t have a crystal ball,” she said. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like for them when they’re 17 and faced with a lot of decisions.”

Giving her son and daughter an extra year in kindergarten will mean they will be 18 when they graduate, and Salisbury said she wanted them to be older when making decisions about college.

In the past, a child had to be 5 by Dec. 2 to attend kindergarten in California. Under a new state law, kindergarten will be available for children who turn 5 by Sept. 1 starting in the 2014-15 school year.

Until then, the state is easing into the change to avoid a sudden influx of new students. The optional transitional kindergarten program is open for students who turn 5 by Nov. 1 this year, and next year the program will be open for children who are 5 by Sept. 1.

Because the transitional kindergarten population is just a fraction of the actual kindergarten population, the program usually is not offered at every school, but is offered in most districts.

Students who take transitional kindergarten follow the school year with a year of traditional kindergarten. Both classes are about three and a half hours, and transitional kindergarten teachers in the area received three days of training from the County Office of Education.

“I would say we get to take things a lot slower,” said Kelly Ezzard, who teaches transitional kindergarten at Paloma. “We get to spend more time on the social aspects and the development aspects of school. We’re giving them more time to get the foundational skills.”

Smaller school districts, such as Del Mar Union, provide transitional kindergarten blended with a traditional kindergarten class.

At the single-school San Pasqual Union School District, Superintendent Gary Wilson said only one child qualified for transitional kindergarten, and that student was put in a traditional kindergarten class with the understanding that he would repeat it next year.

In the Oceanside Unified School District, 124 students are enrolled in transitional kindergarten, OUSD public information officer Steve Lombard said. The district offers the program at Laurel, McAuliffe, Nichols, Reynolds and Stuart Mesa schools.

In the Escondido Union School District, transitional kindergarten is offered at all schools, but some are in combination with traditional kindergarten classes.

In the Encinitas Union School District, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services David Miyashiro said the district does not offer an official transitional kindergarten program, but does provide parents of eligible children an opportunity to apply for early entrance to kindergarten.

In San Marcos Unified, Director of Elementary Education Tracy Garcia said transitional kindergarten is offered in three of the district’s 11 elementary schools: Paloma, Carrillo and La Costa Meadows.

Garcia said those schools were chosen based on available space at schools and a survey to find how many parents were interested in the program.

In the Vista Unified School District, transitional kindergarten is available at Temple Heights, Foothill Oak and Monte Vista schools, which each have 24 students in the program, said Jeanie Luckey, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

At Paloma, parent Jennifer Jones-Glor’s son, Ryan, will be 5 on Nov. 3.

“I was fine with waiting a year,” she said about the eligibility date that had been in place before the change.

“And then they started this, and I wanted to do it,” Ryan interjected about why he is in transitional kindergarten.

As he ran across a campus lawn with one of his classmates, it was obvious that Ryan liked going to school.

“He really wanted to, so we figured, why not?” his mother said.

“I do a lot of fun stuff,” Ryan said, adding that he is studying math and making pumpkin patterns.

Elise Joaquin, grandmother of transitional kindergarten student Giovani at Paloma, said her grandson loves school.

“It was the idea of a continuing education, and not just leaving him at home,” she said about Giovani, who had attended preschool. “He’s pretty sharp for his age, and he likes to do his homework.”

Jessica Zeait said she placed her son, Aidan, in transitional kindergarten although his Oct. 17 birthday makes him eligible for traditional kindergarten.

“It was for the gift of time,” she said about the opportunity to give her son an extra year of school. “For the social and emotional development. He needed another year. He would have been constantly trying to catch up. This is ideal for him, and he just loves it.”

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