The children make up the first class to participate in Tracy Unified School District’s transitional kindergarten program, known as Jumpstart Kindergarten.
The program is part of a state-wide mandate that kicked off a week ago, marking the first addition of a grade level in California since kindergarten was introduced in 1891.
The objective of the program is to provide a bridge between preschool and kindergarten for children who will turn 5 this year between Nov. 2 and Dec. 2, though no extra funding was provided to local schools to fulfill the directive.
“It’s giving kids that extra push from that 4-year-old age into being a kindergartner,” said TUSD spokeswoman Jessica Cardoza. “Across the board, it’s a way to transition our younger students into kindergarten so they are better prepared.”
Adding a grade
Transitional kindergarten is the result of the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 that changed the kindergarten entry age, authored by state Sen. Joe Simitian. This year, about 40,000 students in California are being offered developmentally appropriate curriculum in more than 2,000 classrooms.
South/West Park Principal Ramona Soto has two transitional kindergarten classes in her charge.
“Things are going well,” Soto said. “We’re excited to offer this to kids so they can be at school. We don’t want anyone to stay at home. Kindergarten has such rigid standards. … They may not master them, but they are exposed to them.”
In addition to Anderson, South/West Park has bilingual teacher Arminda Castellon taking part in day-long transitional kindergarten program from 8:20 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., which had 34 students as of Tuesday.
A second transitional kindergarten program — on a half-day schedule
from 8 to 11:35 a.m. — is being offered to 20 students at Jacobson Elementary School, which coincides with the school’s existing kindergarten program, said Principal Cindy Sasser.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Sasser said of transitional kindergarten. “A long time coming — especially for students who are new to a classroom environment. Prior to being an administrator, I taught kindergarten for nine years, and I saw the difference.”
Sasser said transitional kindergarten will give children without preschool experience a chance to work on their skills, such as holding a pencil or crayon. She said it will also improve their self-esteem.
Back at South/West Park, Anderson said, “It’s going great — a lot of fun. They’re settling into a routine. Everything they do in kindergarten, we do here at a slower pace. They can explore a little more and make connections so they can be more of a leader next year in kindergarten. It’s a trial run at kindergarten.”
During a lesson on colors, Anderson’s students sat on a colorful carpet in the front corner of the room, clapping and gesturing with their hands and singing enthusiastically along. Because all the students will turn 5 in November, she said they can relate to one another more easily as they develop skills to follow direction, socialize and learn.
Earlier in the day, Anderson had the students split into groups at work stations, taking turns learning numbers, coloring within the lines and matching shapes.
Sitting on the floor, 4-year-olds Rylee List and Saige Chapin worked as a team trying to match shapes on flashcards.
“You have to look up when you look for a match,” Rylee said.
“We get to keep them (if it matches),” Saige explained, cheering a second later as she matched two cards with octagon shapes.
Working at the table of children who were tracing numbers from one to five on a card, Saniyah Johnson proudly said, “It’s not all hard,” while a classmate echoed, “Not hard for me.”
In Castellon’s bilingual class, the majority of the lessons so far have been taught in the children’s native language of Spanish. She said her goal was to get the children comfortable with their academic skills before leading them in English.
“It’s only the seventh day of class, and they’re getting it,” Castellon said. “They’re getting the routine down, and every day it gets better.”
Both South/West Park teachers said they planned to update the parents of their transitional kindergartners with weekly newsletters, identifying their progress.
During a couple of hours of activities Tuesday morning, it was apparent that every part of the children’s day intertwines some type of lesson that will prepare them for school — learning how to quietly raise a hand to be called upon to answer a question, or lining up single-file to go to recess on the playground.
“It’s a big one to know how to be in school and interact with other kids,” Anderson said.
All schools affected
Officials of Jefferson School District, who have 19 children enrolled in transitional kindergarten, said it was hard to prepare for the new grade level. According to Superintendent Dana Eaton, state lawmakers were indecisive about when they wanted to start it.
“It was sort of hard to prepare — state flip-flopped back and forth, but we’re used to it, so we were preparing for it throughout the (2011) year,” Eaton said.
“Any opportunity we get to work with students to help prepare them for school, we’re going to take advantage of it,” Eaton continued. “We have a great team out here of kindergarten teachers. … There are students who do benefit from an extra year of preparation.”
How to pay for it
No state funds were provided to set up classrooms and materials for transitional kindergarten programs, but all schools receive Average Daily Attendance money — funds given by the state for each day a student is in school — for the new transitional kindergartners. That money is absorbing the costs of the new teachers’ salaries, said Linda Dopp, Tracy Unified’s director of alternative programs.
She said that because transitional kindergarten is part of the overall school program, funds for such items as classroom setup, paper and supplies are being provided by the district from special restricted funds.
Eaton said Jefferson’s transitional kindergarten, like other districts’, is funded by Average Daily Attendance income.
Soto, the South/West Park principal, said she used some of her school’s existing funds to set up the two new classrooms.
Lack of students
Although the new grade level is mandated, some school districts were not able to offer transitional kindergarten because they didn’t have enough students who fell into the age range.
Such was the case at New Jerusalem, Lammersville and Banta school districts.
“We had a few sign up and register back in June, and then, for whatever reason, one went to another program and one went to another school,” Banta Elementary School Principal Albert Garibaldi said.
To accommodate the lone student, he said, school officials decided to put her into an existing kindergarten class.
A similar situation occurred in Mountain House’s Lammersville Unified School District this year.
Assistant Superintendent Khushwinder Gill told the Lammersville school board on Aug. 15 that only 11 students signed up for transitional kindergarten, so trustees decided to include it with the existing kindergarten class at Questa School.
Due to a lack of qualified students, New Jerusalem Superintendent David Thoming said his district did not offer transitional kindergarten this year.
However, the need is likely to grow.
As the program is phased in during the next three years, many districts anticipate adding transitional kindergarten classrooms.
Children who turn 5 between Nov. 2 and Dec. 2 are eligible to start transitional kindergarten in 2012; those who turn 5 between Oct. 2 and Dec. 2 will be included in 2013; and those who turn 5 from Sept. 2 to Dec. 31 can enroll in 2014.
Schools will continue to receive Average Daily Attendance funds for each child in the transitional programs.