Very young children in the San Gabriel Unified School District now have a chance to get ahead.
Known as transitional kindergarten, children who are not 5 years old by Sept. 2 of the school year calendar can go to school a year early and get the skills they need to succeed the next year.
“What it does is it looks at the preschool students and the California content standards,” said Mayra Perez, assistant superintendent in charge of educational services. “That’s where we focus our instruction. You can identify who’s a younger child. They might be a little smaller. They might have difficulty writing. This is an opportunity to give them more time.”
Perez said the skills these children are learning are invaluable.
“In kindergarten, children learn all their letter sounds,” she said. “They have to learn sight words and they have to be able to write one sentence. A lot of the kids can go beyond that. These children are a little younger, so we’re giving them a jump start, an extra year.”
While a few months difference in age means nothing to adults, it could mean worlds apart for children of those young ages, Perez said.
“What we’ve found is our transitional kindergarten students are going into kindergarten ready to read and write,” she said. “Children who were uncomfortable holding a pencil are now taking off in writing. They’re reading for kindergarten. They’re well on their way.”
Perez added this was true for most of the students who have been in transitional kindergarten this school year.
“What we’re seeing is these children who are in school were able to connect the curriculum to kindergarten,” she said. “It’s a nice transition. It’s an opportunity to build a bridge.”
With this being the first year, the district started the program for 20 students at Roosevelt Elementary School, five days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., Perez said, adding many students in transitional kindergarten are also just learning English.
“We have children who are English only, but we have 35 percent who are English learners,” Perez said. “It’s an opportunity to give them time to grow, to learn.”
In addition, Perez said she is hoping the program will get bigger.
“It’ll grow if we have the numbers, but we have to have the enrollment,” she said.
Perez said tests done on the students have shown they have been able to advance in the academic basics.
“What we discovered is when we assessed students in areas of math and reading we were able to identify where kids were,” she said. “They identified sounds. We tested did they know the alphabet? Do they know sight words? Reading skills?
“We also look at their number skills. Do they know numbers? Can they count and can they write their name? We discovered some could, some couldn’t, but most are reading and know their numbers. We’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth, which means that sets up the kindergarten teacher to get them along further.”
But it’s not all academics, Perez said, as these are still young children.
“There’s also time for stretching, time for playing, time for puppets – that’s language play,” Perez said. “That’s really helps kids develop.”
-Story by Shel Segal