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Off to a Good Start: La Jolla’s ‘young 5s’ thrive in Transitional Kindergarten program

The TK (Transitional Kindergarten) program is for children with their fifth birthday between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. The first day of school for the 2015-2016 academic year is Tuesday, sept. 8. File
The TK (Transitional Kindergarten) program is for children with their fifth birthday between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. The first day of school for the 2015-2016 academic year is Tuesday, sept. 8. File

The 2014-2015 school year has come and gone, but for La Jolla’s youngest students, this year was a special one. It was the first year every public elementary school in San Diego offered a Transitional Kindergarten class.

Abbreviated as TK, the program is for children with their fifth birthday between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. Previously, the cutoff date for entrance to kindergarten was a fifth birthday by Dec. 2 — one of the latest in the country. This allowed for children as young as 4 years and 9 months to be in classes with students more than a year older.

Donna Marriott, leadership and learning division resource teacher, said the extra time provides young fives with a more thorough development of “early literacy, oral language, early mathematics and social skills.”

Bird Rock Elementary School kindergarten teacher Lorene LaCava added, “It’s an earlier exposure to foundation of education, getting their ABCs down, but most importantly, learning how to go to school.”

In drafting its TK program, the San Diego Unified School District studied information from the Sacramento County Office of Education, the Poway Unified School District and resources from the California Department of Education. TK teachers receive training along with curricula and standards for younger students, which, coupled with the fact that the program is free to all eligible students, differentiates TK from preschool.

Every school in the San Diego Unified School will offer the program going forward, but as the program was being established in 2012, it was introduced gradually to a few schools at a time. One school from each cluster was selected. For La Jolla’s Cluster, that was Bird Rock Elementary in 2013. La Jolla Elementary received the TK program a year later.

Bird Rock principal Sally Viavada said in its first year, Bird Rock saw 13 TK students. “In TK there is an emphasis on oral language, literacy ... cooperation, collaboration and self-esteem, so the children become confident learners when they enter kindergarten,” she said.

Although offering TK in San Diego schools is mandatory, participation is not.

However, early research indicates students who go through the TK program “do better across all academic measures, especially literacy and math,” said Marriott via e-mail. “TK students gain confidence, social skills and maturity. The benefits are especially strong for English-learners and students from lower socio-economic contexts,”

LaCava said this year, five students came to Bird Rock’s kindergarten program from the TK program at Kate Sessions Elementary School. “Those students came in full of confidence,” she said. “They were strong students and really ready to take on a full- day kindergarten program. It was terrific.”

Schools decide on a site-by-site basis whether to have stand-alone TK classes or combined classes. In the Bird Rock program, TK students had a special class in the morning and joined their peers in the afternoon. Next year, Bird Rock teachers expect to see 19 students in the TK program.

For LaCava, having children go through a TK program lays the groundwork for a successful year of kindergarten. “The No. 1 thing is that children leave kindergarten with a joy of learning,” she said. “We really want them to think of themselves as learners and have them move on with a strong idea of what learning is all about and that learning is fun.”