For some children in Lodi Unified School District, the first year of school means being fully prepared to enter kindergarten with a little school experience already under their belts, thanks to transitional kindergarten programs.
Since the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 was signed into law, transitional kindergarten has become an authorized part of the state public school system — a move which made early education publicly available to, but not required for, students.
Many school districts — including Lodi Unified — have already begun implementing transitional kindergarten programs.
However, California lawmakers have been pushing to require adoption of early education programs like transitional kindergarten in all districts, though the newly proposed budget leaves little funding for other early education programs, like preschool.
According to the California Department of Education, transitional kindergarten is the first part of a two-year kindergarten program designed to prepare younger children for kindergarten.
Catherine Pennington, Lodi Unified’s assistant superintendent of instructional services and elementary education, said the district has been quick to roll out the new programs since the previous bill passed.
Lawrence and Lakewood elementary schools in Lodi and Podesta Ranch and Mosher elementary schools in North Stockon have already offered the program for one year. By next school year, Larson and Creekside elementary schools will join them.
“We will expand if the need is there,” Pennington said. “We are serving the children.”
Children who will turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 qualify for the program for the 2014-15 school year, but the program is voluntary.
Parents who do not live near a school that offers the program can opt to send their child to a school that does for that year. The child would then return to the school designated for their area for their remaining education.
Transitional programs are similar to regular kindergarten programs. However, a typical day for a student in transitional kindergarten will focus more on exposing students to curriculum such as letter, sound and number recognition early, without the pressure of mastering skills quickly.
“It gives kids exposure to what they will be seeing and learning in kindergarten,” said Melissa McClelland, a transitional kindergarten teacher at Lawrence Elementary School. “It’s a slower pace and it will be easier for them to learn it, so they can progress.”
If the current bill passes, these transitional programs will become a permanent fixture of public education in California and will require funding from the state budget.
There are already 160 students from the Lodi district enrolled in the transitional kindergarten programs this year. Many educators are already pleased with the progress of the programs.
“We’re finding it to be quite successful. Kindergarten teachers are telling us that the students are much more prepared coming in to kindergarten, and we expect that will set them up for success in the future,” Pennington said.