Two-year kindergarten begins for children born in fall

08.26.2012 | Marin Independent Journal | Will Jason

ANGELA KRIESLER’S class at Novato’s Loma Verde Elementary will have a lot of birthdays for 5-year-olds to celebrate this fall — 20 of them to be exact.

That is because the Novato Unified School District, like districts throughout California, is rolling out a new transitional kindergarten program for 4-year-olds with fall birthdays. Required by a two-year-old state law, the program delays kindergarten for students born between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 and gives them two years of public schooling before the first grade.

The goal is to give younger students a year to learn the basics of school life, such as listening and sitting still, before they are exposed to the academic requirements of kindergarten, Kriesler said.

“It takes those children who need that extra time and provides a learning experience that really cares to those needs, and the other kindergarten classes are able to move at that pace and prepare for first grade,” she said.

Transitional kindergarten classes will mostly cover the same material as standard kindergarten, such as basic shapes, letters and numbers, but the extra year will give younger students critical time to develop more before first grade, said Amanda Langford, elementary curriculum coordinator for the Novato district.

“It gives us an opportunity to really look at each individual child,” Langford said.

Novato hosted the county’s first transitional kindergarten class last year, a year before the program was required of all California schools. This year it will mix an additional 40 transitional kindergarten students into regular kindergarten classrooms at schools throughout the district as allowed by the law.

The law gives flexibility to districts because many may not have enough 4-year-olds or space for dedicated classrooms.

“Either model is going to be effective because the students that are being served in this program are kids that theoretically would have been in kindergarten anyways,” said Raquel Rose, assistant superintendent of student programs for the Marin County Office of Education.

As the program is rolled out throughout Marin this fall, most districts will phase in transitional kindergarten beginning only with students born between Nov. 2 and Dec. 2. October-born children will be added next year, and the September cutoff will be established in 2014.

The districts’ approaches vary in how and where the students are enrolled.

In the Ross Valley district, 17 transitional kindergartners have enrolled in a dedicated class on the Brookside Elementary in San Anselmo. In the San Rafael City Schools, 24 4-year-olds have been mixed into traditional kindergarten at Short Elementary School in the Gerstle Park neighborhood. And in the Mill Valley School District, where only four transitional students have been enrolled so far, the students will be added to a regular classroom at Strawberry Point School.

It is possible more students will enroll before classes begin, particularly in Mill Valley, where the start date was delayed until Sept. 10 because of construction.

“I anticipated there would be a ton of kids that would come, but we’ll see,” Strawberry Point Principal Leslie Thornton said of transitional kindergarten.

Not all Marin schools will receive more state funding for the program. The Novato, Ross Valley and San Rafael districts will receive state funds after legislators reversed Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed $223.7 million cut to transitional kindergarten in the budget approved this spring. However, the funds will not go to other Marin districts, which rely mostly on local property taxes.

It is not yet clear what the financial impact of the program will be. The cost depends partly on how many parents who previously enrolled their 4-year olds in private preschool will opt for transitional kindergarten.

The costs could be offset by other parents who, wary of their children being the youngest in their class, hold back students who turn 5 in the summer.

“That’s kind of a wash,” said Scott Moore, a senior policy adviser for Preschool California, an Oakland-based advocacy group that helped write the transitional kindergarten law.

Moore said the law brings California in line with most other states, which already had September cutoff dates for kindergarten.

“For many decades now, parents and educators have understood that 4 years old is really too young for kindergarten,” he said. “A teacher really needs to meet a child where they are developmentally instead of saying to the whole class, every kid, ‘This is where we’re starting today and we are all going to move together,'” he said.

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