This is the time of year we think about “back to school.” But for some of our youngest citizens, the beginning of the year is the start of their school career. Thirteen members of the high school class of 2028 began this year in the transitional kindergarten classroom at the east end of the Coast Union campus.
Transitional kindergarten is a relatively new program intended to fill the gap created when California changed kindergarten eligibility, requiring students to be 5 years old on or before Sept. 1. The program, which is in its fourth year at Coast Unified, provides a year of school readiness for children with fall birthdays.
Jan Boughter pioneered transitional kindergarten at Coast Unified. She started in a classroom at the school administration building, and subsequently moved to their current location, which includes a large classroom, a fenced in play yard and space for gardens.
Although many of the children have attended preschool programs, it’s time to become school-ready. “This is their first experience with rules,” Boughter explained. “They have to learn to sit still in a story circle and to observe playground etiquette.”
From an academic standpoint there’s a lot to learn, as well. Eleven of the 13 students are English language learners.
To address this, Boughter and her assistant Sigrid Casteneda employ Spanish to a great extent during the first few weeks and then transition to English as the students become more comfortable. Ultimately they are encouraged to leave Spanish at home and speak only English at school. Some of the other educational objectives include counting to 20, recognizing the numbers from one to 10, recognizing the alphabet and knowing its sounds, speaking in full sentences, waiting, and sharing.
Boughter also noted that research shows focus on large motor skill development improves student success. So outdoor play, led primarily by Casteneda, becomes an important component of the program. Organized activities, such as games and gardening, are fully incorporated into the curriculum. Music, dance and art also enrich the classroom experience.
Another part of the transition includes learning to eat new foods. The Cookie Crock donates a new fruit or vegetable to the classroom each week. The kids often surprise themselves when they find they like something they’ve never tried before.
Co-locating transitional kindergarten at the high school provides an opportunity for Coast Union students to contribute to their youngest counterparts. Currently 10 high schoolers spend two or three periods a week doing everything from supervising playground activities to erasing whiteboards.
Transitional kindergarten also has a tight connection with the students’ homes. A monthly family night links parents with activities in the classroom. Boughter and Casteneda pointed out that first-time parents, especially, often need extra support to have their children ready for school each day. But by the second or third child everything is well organized.
Our youngest students begin their school careers with the challenge of leaving the nest and learning not only academics, but skills necessary to be students and learners throughout their lives. Transitional kindergarten is an encouraging, supportive environment, getting them off to the best start possible.