This fall marks year two of California’s transitional kindergarten program.
Transitional kindergarten is a new grade serving younger students with birthdays between September and December, established under the state’s Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 that changed the kindergarten entry date so that children enter kindergarten at age 5. Students aren’t required to start school until age 6.
This year, more than 80,000 students are expected to begin transitional kindergarten statewide, up from 39,000 last year. During the 2012-13 school year, students had to be 5 years old by Nov. 1 to start kindergarten. For this school year, students need to be 5 by Oct. 1 and beginning next school year, students will need to be 5 by Sept. 1.
In the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District, eight of the 16 schools have transitional kindergarten classrooms, with a total of around 160 students. This is two and half more classes than last year. The district plans on adding more classes next year.
Teacher Barbara Hernandez taught transitional kindergarten last year at Beresford Elementary School and has moved over to George Hall Elementary School to continue teaching transitional kindergarten. She has taught in the district for seven years and applied to be a transitional kindergarten teacher after years as a kindergarten teacher. George Hall began school July 31.
“I saw this as an opportunity to go back to how kindergarten used to be when I first started teaching it,” Hernandez said. “Kindergarten has gotten very academic and it feels like first grade now. The standards have been raised and they’re upping what kids should know. This is more freeing for myself; there’s not so much pressure.”
She is excited to be on the forefront of something and likes helping the children be ready to sit and focus on academics when kindergarten rolls around, Hernandez said.
Alicia Heneghan, administrator of the transitional kindergarten program for the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District, said the district’s program is very focused on social and emotional development. Teachers also focus on self-regulation, motor skills and academic skills.
One core portion of the students’ days is learning centers, which Heneghan calls “structured opportunities for interpersonal play.” Students rotate between teacher-directed and student-initiated centers which involve play-based centers like dollhouses, trains, kitchen and Legos, academic centers with math, a listening center, as well as writing, computer and library time.
Transitional kindergarten students share the same school hours as kindergarten students at the schools. For example, at George Hall, these grades attend school from 8 a.m. to 12:25 p.m.
Ernesto Saldana, vice president of Early Edge California, an advocacy organization focused on increasing access to high-quality preschool programs, said San Mateo County has been a model for how to run transitional kindergarten.
“One thing that’s really important is that San Mateo has been a model for high quality preschool and has understood the value of bridging preschool and kindergarten,” Saldana said. “That’s something that’s been strong all along. They’ve done a really good job of implementing transitional kindergarten, along with supporting and refining curriculum to raise the quality of transitional kindergarten.”
His organization is partnering with the San Mateo County Office of Education to host a Transitional Kindergarten Implementation Conference in November. The Northern California Transitional Kindergarten Conference will be a professional development opportunity for teachers and administrators.
“As transitional kindergarten expands and the program grows, we expect to see the number of eligible 5-year-olds enrolled in transitional kindergarten to increase,” Saldana said. “We’re excited to see it continue to roll out and serve more children over the next two years.”