Transitional Kindergarten a Bridge to Success

Transitional Kindergarten a Bridge to Success

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Last year, my grandson Rickey took his first steps into a transitional kindergarten classroom. When he was in preschool, Rickey, a fall baby with a November birthday, was among the youngest in the class and I noticed him avoiding leadership roles, as well as fine motor skill activities such a coloring. As a grandmother, I believed in his intelligence and abilities, but I knew that the gift of time was just what he needed to foster those invaluable learning traits.

That’s why I’m confounded by Gov. Brown’s budget proposal calling for the elimination of transitional kindergarten. Last year, California Senate Bill 1381 was passed to gradually change the kindergarten birthday cut-off date from December 2 to September 1, over a three-year period, from 2012 to 2015. Transitional Kindergarten is a one-year pre-k program created under the bill to continue to educate children whose admissions are delayed.

The extra year it afforded Rickey was simply a great opportunity, giving him the time to mature and develop the readiness skills necessary to thrive in school. His experiences within the walls of this classroom have shaped his current success in kindergarten and these benefits will no doubt continue to stay with him in later grades. It is difficult to imagine young children like my grandson being denied the right to the same kindergarten opportunity.

As a San Diego teacher, elementary school principal and administrator for 32 years, I have seen bright and capable children like Rickey, whose birthdays fell later in the year, struggle to meet the rising demands of kindergarten. For these students, transitional kindergarten acts as a bridge, inculcating in them the groundwork for later success through a developmentally appropriate curriculum.

Resembling the kindergarten classrooms of a generation ago, transitional kindergartens today feature kitchenettes, dress-up areas, and centers for coloring, painting and block building. But don’t let appearances fool you. Offering the right learning environment, this extra one year of school gives children an opportunity to learn from a credentialed teacher in a hands-on, interactive way that supports their development, while still maintaining the high-standards of kindergarten.

We have already seen the positive impact of transitional kindergarten programs in several communities, including some here in San Diego. Other school districts throughout the state have been offering transitional kindergarten for years.

This is especially important for California Latinos, who account for more than half of all children age 5 and under across the state but who make up only 14 percent of children enrolled in high-quality early learning programs. In San Diego, where Latinos account for 40 percent of the overall child population, less than a quarter of three-year-olds and four-year-olds are enrolled in publicly contracted programs.

Already lacking affordable preschool options, Latino families may be squeezed even further by impending state budget cuts to child development and other critical programs for young children.

According to the original plan, when fully implemented transitional kindergarten will benefit 125,000 children – of which 40 percent are English language learners and 62 percent are from low-income schools – since it ensures all age-eligible children, regardless of family income, access to a public school program. Doing so gives these kids a head start on learning, allowing them to absorb and master fundamental skills, and helping to reduce the likelihood of retention in later grades.

San Diego County, which currently has 10 transitional kindergarten programs in place, plans to offer 105 classrooms serving more than 2,000 early learners by 2015.

Today, Rickey is a confident leader in the classroom and has found new enjoyment in coloring. The social-emotional, pre-literacy, pre-math and school readiness skills I have seen my grandson learn have assured me that transitional kindergarten was the right choice for him. I know it will offer the same wonderful benefits to all our children here in San Diego and across the state.

Sylvia Gonzalez is director of Early Childhood Education Programs for the San Diego Unified School District.