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Galt offers a different kind of kindergarten

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Posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 12:00 am

Imagine a classroom where 4-year-olds are learning to write their names. After a short lesson, they move on to free time, which allows them to choose whether to play with a doll house or a pretend cash register.

At recess, they are learning to take turns and get along with others.

This isn’t preschool. It’s public school.

For the first time, the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District will have two independent transitional kindergarten classes this fall.

Last year, in the first year the program was mandated by the state, each school offered a blended transitional kindergarten-kindergarten class to incorporate students born in November.

Transitional kindergarten is the first year of a two-year kindergarten program. It was created for students born between Sept. 1 and Dec. 2 as the kindergarten start date is moved to require that students entering school for the first time turn 5 years old by Sept. 1. That will be the rule by 2014.

“With common core standards being so rigorous, many kids need more time,” TK teacher Linda Ekstrom said, adding that maturity can affect learning. “Kids may be ready to learn, but can they sit on the carpet long enough? Kids who are already five seem to do OK.”

Lodi Unified School District, which started Friday, is also expanding its program by increasing the number of schools offering transitional kindergarten to four. Classes have started at Lakewood, Lawrence, Podesta Ranch and George Lincoln Mosher elementary schools.

In Galt, Ekstrom has been developing the new program by examining kindergarten common core standards and looking to schools elsewhere in California that already have successful TK programs. Several small districts and private schools around the state adopted programs earlier than was mandated to reach out to younger students.

She’s also drawn on her own experience as a reading coach and teacher of kindergarten, first and second grade.

Unlike kindergarten, TK curriculum is modified to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of younger children through through more hands-on activities than are available in kindergarten, since that is more focused on meeting standards by year’s end.

By the end of kindergarten, for example, students must be able to identify numbers one through 20, add and subtract fluently within five digits and understand basic concepts using math such as this word problem: There are five cookies on a plate. Two are chocolate chip. How many are oatmeal?

For reading, they need to know all letter names and sounds, as well as 35 to 100 high-frequency words by sight, depending on the district.

To meet these standards, Ekstrom and fellow TK teacher Corine Majernik are creating exploration stations focusing on art, writing and dramatic play, where students can act out roles such as being a veterinarian.

“It’ll be more structured than preschool,” Ekstrom said. “This is not preschool. It’s going to look at a lot more like kindergarten than preschool.”

The pace of instruction will be based on students’ academic, social and emotional readiness, not age, according to Donna Whitlock, the district’s prevention and intervention academic coordinator.

Students will be split into groups based on their levels, Ekstrom said.

Although it’s the state law now, several parents are concerned about their children spending two years in kindergarten, according to Whitlock.

“They feel they are already prepared to enter regular kindergarten,” she said of those not meeting the deadline.

The other concern expressed by parents is that the TK classes are not offered at their home school, where students’ siblings are enrolled. But there are not enough students that fall into the threshold to warrant TK at every campus, according to the district.

TK students on the west side of Highway 99 will attend Greer Elementary, while students on the east side will go to Lake Canyon. They will all return to their home school in 2014-15 for kindergarten.

The TK school day will mirror the district’s traditional kindergarten schedule with classes from 7:50 a.m. to 11:10 a.m. or 11:10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Unless a child is enrolled in the afternoon TK Extended-Day English Language Development program, lunch will not be provided.

There are several spaces remaining. Contact Whitlock at 209-745-1546, ext 303, for more information.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodi-news.com.

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