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District has more options for young learners

School sometimes pushes babies too soon, teacher says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Kindergarten is expecting more from today’s youngsters, and Auburn schools are looking for ways to prepare students. “One of the biggest differences with kindergarten right now is the very stringent kindergarten standards,” said Michele Schuetz, superintendent of Auburn Union School District. “Kindergartners are expected to do more of what first-graders did years ago. With that, we realize that not all kindergartners are ready.” Beckie Lopez King, a kindergarten teacher at Rock Creek Elementary School, said expectations are higher for these young students, and the classroom makeup is changing. “The population of English-learners has increased dramatically,” Lopez King said. “I have 23 students, 19 are Spanish students. Five are English. That is the difference of what it was before. The curriculum has gotten rigorous. Kindergarten curriculum, I would say, is first grade curriculum, because they are expected to know letters, their names upon entering.” Schuetz said Auburn schools have options for kids who are just not ready. Skyridge Elementary School has a transitional pre-kindergarten program. The program is for children who meet the requirement of turning 5 by Dec. 2, but whose parents decide they are not ready for kindergarten. Schuetz said in this program the class sizes are smaller and more modalities are used for learning. “We have had that for two years at Skyridge, and next year we hope to put one in the north area of town,” Schuetz said. Schuetz said after pre-K, students either continue on to kindergarten or, if they meet requirements, first grade. The district is also looking to expand its preschool classes to give parents another option for early education, including its blended program at Alta Vista and future classes at Rock Creek, Schuetz said. Schuetz said students from all over the district can participate in these programs, and Auburn Union accepts children from other districts for pre-K classes. The students can then return to their districts for kindergarten. Auburn resident Bria Johnson, whose daughter Anna attends kindergarten at Auburn Elementary School, said she sees daily how much the kindergarten curriculum has to offer. “When my daughter went into kindergarten she knew maybe three or four letters of the alphabet, and she couldn’t recognize her numbers very well,” Johnson said. “Now she can recognize and write the entire alphabet, she can count and write up to 30. The environment in her classroom is phenomenal. She loves coming to school and loves learning.” Johnson said she remembers her kindergarten class being more about playtime, and Anna’s class is much more structured. “I know they do a lot of group activity,” she said. “They actually do a lot more field trips than I remember ever doing in kindergarten, which has been phenomenal.” Auburn resident Sarah Graham has a 6-year-old son, Jake, in kindergarten at Auburn Elementary. Graham said she is thrilled that her son’s class has two teachers who each work with 11 students. The different options available in the district are positive things for parents and students, Graham said. “I think it’s a good thing,” she said. “My daughter was a little more ready for kindergarten than my son. I think it’s a good thing especially for boys. They need a little more time to benefit from that academic and social piece.” Graham said she also likes that Auburn Union has both full-day and half-day kindergarten offerings. “There are some really young kids in kindergarten that I just think a full day would be challenging for them,” she said. Senate Bill 1381, now a law, is slowly allowing fewer children under five years old to start kindergarten. “Right now to be eligible for kindergarten, a child has to turn 5 years old prior to Dec. 2,” said Daniel Berlant, president of the Auburn Union School District Board of Trustees. “What the state has done … is slowly going to move that date up, and by 2014 the student will have to be five years old by Sept. 1.” Each year the law will move the age requirement up one month with kids having to be 5 years old by Nov. 1, 2012, Oct. 1, 2013 and Sept. 1 in 2014, Berlant said. Berlant said the district feels with the new law it’s still important to give young learners a little boost in education before kindergarten. “We want to still be able to service the children in our community,” he said. “We want them to be as ready as possible because test scores and student achievement in the upper grades, really it’s critical to the foundation of the rest of their lives, and it starts in kindergarten.” Lopez King said she thinks the law is a positive one. “Because I think we are pushing babies too soon,” she said. “Children don’t have enough time to just be children. They are going to get 13 years of school eventually, and hopefully college. So, you tack on another four years to that, and it’s a long part of their life.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com