Critical transition for young kindergartners

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When Donna Noyman enrolled her son Jared in the Young Fives program at Palo Unified School District, she was confident her decision would help better prepare him to succeed in school. At 4 years and 10 months old, Jared was academically ready for kindergarten, but he struggled socially.

After just a few months, Donna quickly began to see positive changes as Jared became more independent and mature. By the end of his year in Young Fives, Jared was socially, emotionally and academically ready to enter kindergarten. “He’s confident now,” says Donna. “He knows what to expect, how to be with people socially.”

Jared is one of many of children we’ve seen at programs across California who have benefited from programs like Young Fives. And if Gov. Schwarzenegger signs an important bill currently on his desk, SB 1381, sponsored by Sens. Joe Simitian and Darrell Steinberg, 120,000 more children will be able to enroll in similar programs that will provide them with additional support before kindergarten, so they begin school prepared for success.

SB 1381, the Kindergarten Readiness Act, would change California’s kindergarten entry date from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, so children enter kindergarten at age 5. It would also establish transitional kindergarten programs, similar to Palo Alto’s Young Fives program, to serve the children with these fall birthdays.

This bill comes at a critical time in California, as momentum is building in support of transitional kindergarten. On campuses throughout California, transitional kindergarten classes are already making a difference for our youngest learners, while others launched this innovative reform this fall.

In the Long Beach Unified School District, at one such program at Garfield Elementary School another student, Emily, graduated last year at the top of her “Preppy K” class. Her parents and teachers are proud of her extraordinary leadership skills, which they attribute to the additional time she had to develop her social skills before entering kindergarten.

Successes like these will continue as we see new programs open throughout the state. Los Angeles Unified School District is among the new districts offering this program this year. Beginning this month, 38 elementary school sites are offering Transition Kindergarten classes, where the district’s youngest kindergarteners receive high-quality instruction focused on helping them develop their literacy and pre-math skills, while supporting their social and emotional development.  Districts in the Sacramento and Fresno areas have also launched new programs this year to prepare their youngest students for success before kindergarten.

With kindergarten becoming increasingly academic – and California’s kindergarten standards among the highest in the nation – ensuring our children are ready for kindergarten is more important than ever. Research shows that moving the kindergarten entry date up increases test scores by as much as 27 percent, helping to close the achievement gap.

Transitional kindergarten classes throughout the state are building bridges between early learning and kindergarten, and helping improve school readiness statewide. By signing SB 1381, Governor Schwarzenegger has a historic opportunity to reform education, improve kindergarten readiness and give our children the opportunities they deserve to be prepared for academic success.

Catherine Atkin is president of Preschool California, a nonprofit advocacy organization working to increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities for all of California’s children, starting with those who need it most.

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