Transitional kindergarten now three years old in San Jose Unified
11.12.2014 | San Jose Mercury News | Carol Rosen
Transitional kindergarten has grown to its third year. Along with its age, its enrollment has grown. San Jose Unified School District now offers the class in 18 of its 27 elementary schools with 455 students enrolled. But not all the classes have a full complement of 30 students.
The class is designed for children whose birthdays are from Sept. 2 to Dec. 2. In years past these children would enter kindergarten after turning 5. Now these students are being prepared for kindergarten learning a combination of oral language development and social skills at the age of 4, says Jodie Lax, the district’s director of elementary curriculum and instruction.
“Many of these children may have attended preschool, but there’s one big difference: All of our TK teachers are credentialed. They may be teaching some of the same concepts like learning to share as well as letters and numbers up to 10. But they also are learning how to use the Internet and speak in complete sentences,” Lax says.
From experience it appears that TK graduates are better behaved and interact better with their kindergarten peers, Lax adds. Unlike many preschools, TK at San Jose Unified lasts five hours, the same length as kindergarten.
While the teachers are credentialed, a number of parents volunteer to help out in the classroom. “I’m really lucky and grateful to have parental support in the classroom,” says Christina Bingham, a transitional kindergarten teacher at Los Alamatos Elementary. She taught kindergarten for six years, and this is her third year as a TK teacher.
“When we first found out we were teaching TK, we weren’t sure what to do. We were unsure of 30 little 4-year-olds in a classroom. But teaching TK is similar to teaching kindergarten. It’s vitally important to ensure your classroom management skills are in order to have an effective classroom. It works even better for me since I have such wonderful parents helping.”
Early on the group of teachers met for discussions to determine what TK would be like, what different vendors we would need for curriculum. Now the district’s TK teachers meet once a month to discuss issues, professional development. “Our meetings are crucial,” she says.
The main things are teaching them how to be a student, as well as taking time to develop social skills, Bingham says.
She works in both small and large groups. The volunteer parents in the classroom, she has about three working every other day, work with the other children while Bingham is teaching the small groups. “It helps make ours a classroom family because one person can’t do it all.”
The class as a family begins even before school starts. Bingham invites the entire family of each student to a Welcome Barbecue. Too often, she says parents are not aware of what the class is and how it works. The barbecue gives her time to explain and answer questions. She also tells them the students will be introduced to art, music and science. But a good deal of time is spent on social skills.
One huge benefit for TK students is developing the foundational skills that will help the youngsters grow into independent learners. Bingham says she exposes them to literature, oral language and even asks them to keep beginning stage journals.
“They draw what they want and tell me every little detail. I summarize what they say in writing. Then I ask them to sound out the word and have them write it. It shows them the value of what they’ve learned,” she says.
Kindergarten isn’t the same as when many of the current students’ parents attended, says Lax. For example, TK students learn to count to 10; some may go beyond, but the standard is to 10. Kindergarten students will learn to count to 120. They will learn letter names and sounds while TK gets them ready for the kindergarten concepts.
“It’s a good foundation for the children going into kindergarten,” Lax adds. If the district’s budget turns around, it might be considered a class for all students, she says.
Among the 18 schools offering TK are Allen at Steinbeck, Booksin, Canoas, Galarza, Los Alamitos, Schallnberger, Simonds, Terrell, Williams and Willow Glen.