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Transitional Kindergarten Aims to Prepare Youngest Students

Programs operating throughout the South Coast target basic skills needed to succeed in school

After doubts about whether transitional kindergarten would be funded this fall, the classes are up and running all over the South Coast.

State Senate Bill 1381 changed the deadline for kindergarten and added a new public grade with transitional kindergarten.

The program targets children who turn 5 years old between Sept. 1 and Dec. 2, which includes time after the cutoff for kindergarten. Districts can phase in more and more students until 2014-15.

The Santa Barbara Unified School District has these young students at every elementary school, but some classes are combined with regular kindergarten students, Assistant Superintendent Emilio Handall said.

Santa Barbara elementary schools in more high-density neighborhoods, such as Adams, Franklin and McKinley, easily filled their entire transitional kindergarten classes, since there’s a big need, Handall said.

“In the long run, it will be incredibly beneficial not just to students but the entire organization, because they’ll be better prepared and take up fewer resources as they matriculate through the system,” Handall said.

Teachers taking on the new classes are either kindergarten teachers or educators who have a lot of experience with younger students, Handall said.

Teaching a combination class is extremely difficult, so the schools try to group students by skill level for lessons, he said.

“If done strategically, they can put the youngest kindergarteners with TK students in combination classes … or put those with the highest need of growth or skills into those classes,” he said.

Adams Elementary principal Amy Alzina has served on the district’s Kindergarten Council, and helped develop the TK program. The classes run on the kindergarten schedule, and the curriculum is called “nonacademic” since it focuses on learning letters, numbers, language and sensory skills rather than content, she has said.

Alzina’s campus has one full TK class, and she was also able to reduce kindergarten class sizes to 18 students by adding an extra teacher with Title I funding this fall.

Adams School teacher Elizabeth Trainor works with transitional kindergarten students. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
Adams School teacher Elizabeth Trainor works with transitional kindergarten students. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Programs will be phased in throughout the state in public schools, starting this fall. South Coast districts including Carpinteria Union School District, Goleta Union School District, Hope Elementary School District and Cold Spring School District have classes up and running for the 2012-13 year.

Public educators and TK advocates say the program opens up a pre-K education to families that may otherwise have not been able to get a spot, or afford a spot. The program is free, compared to hundreds of dollars per month for some private and independent preschools.

Because of that, it will definitely impact private preschool enrollment, said Padric Davis, interim director of All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Parish School.

Her preschool, which feeds mostly into the Montecito Union School District and private schools, will definitely be affected next year, once more parents know about the TK program, she said.

Enrollment in a private school is always the big unknown, and some families will make the decision with their wallets, she said. Their staffing is funded entirely by tuition, so tuition can’t be lowered to compete with public schools, she said.

“We know we’ll be impacted by it, we just don’t know to what extent,” she said. “We have to be prepared for what our staffing will be … if there’s lessor enrollment for pre-K, we’ll act accordingly.”

This year, they have two pre-K classes and didn’t lose any parents to public TK classes, but still have a few open spots.

“They’ll be getting the same things these other TK kids are getting, and we’ve been doing it a long time,” Davis said. “I really hope (the TK programs) do it right, because we work really hard at being age-appropriate and having all the skills and readiness… we are handing over kids to kindergarten that are academically, emotionally and socially prepared.”

This being the inaugural year of TK, many parents haven’t yet decided whether they want to send their children to elementary school early, said Goleta Valley Nursery School co-director Michele Tappeiner.

Goleta Valley Nursery School’s preschool is booked three out of five days a week, although they were initially concerned about the impacts from TK, Tappeiner said.

Parents are talking to teachers and doctors to get pros and cons, and a few left the school, but many others decided to stay on, she said. The school has 62 families signed up so far, with up to 35 students daily.

“We’re a part-time school, so that’s part of the positive for us, too,” Tappeiner said. “We don’t run past 1 o’clock, so children are able to come two to five days a week or whatever works best, and the parents just appreciate that. They don’t want their kids feeling overwhelmed.”

It’s still early to guess the impact on private and independent preschools, she suggested, since parents and educators are still getting to know about the transitional kindergarten program.

“It might be different for us next year. I don’t know, because so many parents don’t know anything about it yet,” she said. “It’s a good year for everyone to get an idea how it’s going to go.”

Notre Dame and St. Raphael parochial schools have preschools with high enrollment, and the latter has had a transitional kindergarten-style class — called KinderKlasse — for several years, which always fills quickly, principal Michelle Limb said.

Programs like this are imperative for students who have moved beyond preschool but aren’t yet ready for the academic rigor of kindergarten, she said. Notre Dame will be starting a transitional kindergarten class in 2013-14.

For more information about transitional kindergarten programs, contact your district.

» Click here for Carpinteria Unified School District.

» Click here for Santa Barbara Unified School District.

» Click here for Goleta Union School District.

» Click here for Cold Spring School District.

» Click here for Hope Elementary School District.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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