JK/TK Adds Another Educational Option for Young Families

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Joel Matthews is delighted.

And not just about the money this father of three boys saves this year by having his middle son, Kashton, enrolled in Township Elementary School’s Junior Kindergarten/Transitional Kindergarten (JK/TK) program.

It’s more about how Kashton, 5, is thriving at Township.

“What’s so nice is that my son is even more ready for kindergarten. Kindergarten next year will be a cakewalk,” he said.

For the last six years, Simi Valley Unified School District, along with districts throughout the state, has offered JK/TK classes to area families.

JK/TK serves as a bridge between preschool and kindergarten. These free programs target children whose will turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 on the year they enter school, which means they just miss the birthday cut-off for “regular” kindergarten. (For this coming school year, a child born on Aug. 15, 2010 would be admitted into kindergarten whereas a child born Sept 15, 2010 would enroll in JK/TK.) JK/TK also serves children whose parents feel their child would benefit from an extra year of kindergarten experience. JK/TK students go into regular kindergarten when they are done with their JK/TK year.

In the case of the Matthews family, Kashton attended two years of private preschool before going to Township. Kashton missed the kindergarten cut-off age by two weeks, and Joel Matthews said he and his wife are happy they gave Township’s program a try.

“He’s learning at a young age what it’s like to be in a classroom,” he said. “I think that’s the greatest thing and all kids should do this.”

Janet Herman has 26 JK/TK students in her class at Township, including Kashton. Twenty-two kids are TK and the rest are JK, but the class is blended and easily taught together.

On a recent morning visit, her students gathered on the rug around Herman as she read aloud from a book. Then it was Center Time, where students chose different activities—most play-based—and did them for the hour before lunch.

At one table, children were cutting pictures and pasting them onto papers. Classroom volunteers helped the children as needed and everyone was treated with affection and patience.

On the rug, several students played with dolls, animal figures and blocks. Koki Omuro decided that his dinosaurs needed a zoo, so he built one from blocks. Then he made cages for a pig and a cow, all the while talking confidently about what he was building and why. This was a child, Herman said, who started the school year speaking no English. Now he is fluent.

Herman worked with a handful of children at a half-round table where the students were asked to finish the sentence, “I like…” with words and a picture. She helped each student sound out the words to write, which was easy for them because they already knew their alphabet. The students had fun answering Herman’s questions and didn’t seem to know that they were learning, which is one large reason why Sheila Decker is so happy to have her daughter, Elizabeth, in the program.

“I think the biggest difference between JK/TK and a regular kindergarten program is that they still have time to play,” Decker said. “It’s a more natural learning process. They are still learning. They have sight words and blended words and they learn all the letters of the alphabet. But they still have this time where they explore.

“It’s a gift that she’s getting the mix of preschool and academics,” Decker continued. “It’s like a total bonus year for her.”

“The JK/TK program gives students the ‘gift of time’ to develop socially, emotionally and academically before entering traditional kindergarten,” said Kathy Roth, the district’s director of elementary education. “A developmental approach involves students learning in a less formal setting through hands-on activities and their senses. This includes singing, purposeful movement and engagement strategies that inspire a love of learning by discovery.”

As for Herman, she loves teaching in this age group.

“I think JK/TK provides a real developmental component that’s so important for this age,” she said.

Dorothee Chadda is a 9th-grade English teacher. She put her son, Adi, into the JK/TK program because she approved of the curriculum. All of the JK/TK teachers are credentialed. They collaborate with each other to develop appropriate curriculum.

“For me as a teacher I look extensively at the curriculum. I do my own research and I see the way its being implemented in the classroom and it works. What matters to me is that my kid is able to use this program independently. The independence part is what’s important to me,” she said.

The program began six years ago at Berylwood Elementary with two classes, Herman said. Now there are nine classes spread among six schools.

As the program’s enrollment grows, classes will be added at more campuses. Right now, JK/TK classes are placed throughout the offer the greatest accessibility to the most families. A family living on the east side of Simi will likely be offered a spot in a JK/TK class on that side of the city. Because it’s not known until the start of school how many children will be enrolled in JK/TK and where the classes will be best located to help the most families, parents don’t have the option of designating at what campus they wish their child to be placed.

“We want this program to grow,” Roth said. “JK/TK gives our students an incredible opportunity to learn in a developmentally-appropriate manner, with highly qualified teachers guiding them. It provides early-childhood educational support for families in our community at no direct cost to those families.”

For working families, most JK/TK classes are located at schools with before- and after-school care. Plans are being made now to make JK/TK and regular kindergarten into all-day programs. (These classes would be released 10 minutes before the first-sixth grade classes.)

Township Principal Lori Neiman said about half of her JK/TK parents have opted to remain at Township for kindergarten while the other half will either attend their neighborhood schools or have applied for School of Choice to other campuses.

For more information about JK/TK, visit the district’s website at www.simivalleyusd.org or pick up an application at your neighborhood school.

Saluting the Future: Royal High’s Air Force Jr. ROTC Program Takes Flight


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On a certain Tuesday just before Spring Break, Andrew Hazuka started his day at Royal High School a little differently.

With his straight-off-the-hanger light blue dress shirt and navy blue slacks, complete with patches, insignias and polished shoes, Andrew proudly wore his uniform for the first time.

“They (the students) clapped when I came into class,” he said with a smile.

Royal’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (Jr. ROTC) program launched in August, and since then, Col. Mark Hustedt, the lead instructor, has battled patiently for the uniforms.

On this day, he danced with excitement as he entered his third period class, known as Bravo Flight, and saw his 25 smartly dressed students.

“Your uniforms make you look legitimate and, as we say, in regulation,” he told the class.

The students’ delight in wearing their uniforms is just one more indication to how popular this program has become at Royal.

After three years of planning, the U.S. Air Force gave its blessing for the Jr. ROTC at Royal to start this year. About 30 students had signed up for the program at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. Within a few weeks, Royal’s Jr. ROTC swelled to about 130 students. If the program reaches and maintains at least 150 students, the Air Force will provide another teacher, Hustedt said. (Right now, Husted and one other teacher manage the five ROTC classes.)

The program’s mission is to “educate and train high school cadets in citizenship, promote community service, instill responsibility, character and self-discipline, and provide instruction in air and space fundamentals.” It’s one of 66 in the state and the second in Ventura County. (Oxnard High School has the other Air Force Jr. ROTC program.)

Deborah Salgado, director of secondary education for the Simi Valley Unified School District, applied to the Air Force for the program when she was principal at Royal.

“The Jr. ROTC fits in very nicely with the Ronald Reagan Citizen Scholar Institute that we are developing,” she said. “It’s a highly-visible, well-respected program. It opens doors for our students. It’s a college-prep program and participation in Jr. ROTC helps some students acquire scholarships. And student leadership is a big part of this program.”

Laurie Herman’s daughter, Alexa, is in the Bravo Flight class. She said that after watching her ninth-grader these past months, Herman loves this program because of what it teaches.

“It bonds them in a certain way that’s really positive,” she said. “These students have goals and dreams.”

Eleventh-grader Jasmin Grewal serves as cadet second lieutenant for Bravo Flight. She joined the Jr. ROTC because she wants to pursue a military career and is working toward her acceptance in the Air Force or Naval Academy after high school.

On uniform day, Jasmin readily helps her fellow female cadets on the details of wearing the uniform correctly.

“Your name tags need to be centered between the button and the shirt seam,” she said as she helped pin a tag in place.

The other cadets said wearing the uniforms for the first time that day made them stand out, but no one teased them in a bad way over it.

“Someone told me, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you differently. You look fabulous!’ And that helped a lot,” said Cadet Hayley Richardson.

“One of my friends said they wanted to join ROTC so they could wear the uniform,” Cadet Maria Lanuza said. “You feel better about yourself when you’re wearing it.”


Abilities Day: Lessons in Compassion and Acceptance at Garden Grove

First graders at Garden Grove Elementary try out the Braille machine. Braille is a system of raised dots on paper that enable the visually impaired to read books.
First graders at Garden Grove Elementary try out the Braille machine. Braille is a system of raised dots on paper that enable the visually impaired to read books.

The second and third graders sitting in Andrea Keller’s classroom are learning a little differently this day.

Three sound systems positioned around the room are each blaring different lectures or music. Throughout this cacophony of sound, the students are asked to work their way individually through a timed reading comprehension lesson.

Most are not successful and many are frustrated by their own lack of concentration.

This short moment was used by Keller in last month’s Abilities Day at Simi Valley’s Garden Grove Elementary School to show these students how other students with learning disabilities struggle in class.

Principal Martha Feinstein said this all-day event happens each year.

“We do it because we mainstream kids at every opportunity,” she said, referring to Special Education children who attend Garden Grove. Mainstreaming means that wherever and whenever possible, Special Education children attend classes with their non-assisted peers.

“It gives students a little more awareness of what goes on for some students,” she said.

It's difficult for these students to concentrate with the chaotic noise playing in the background. This mimics what some students with learning disabilities may experience every day in class.
It’s difficult for these students to concentrate with the chaotic noise playing in the background. This mimics what some students with learning disabilities may experience every day in class.

In another classroom, students are shown how visually impaired peers are taught, using Braille and hands-on learning tools. Soft books with lots of texture and cut-out boards with fitted shapes help small hands identify shapes and materials in the absence of sight.

Students in the outside lunch area are learning basic American Sign Language words to communicate.

And on the kindergarten play area, fifth graders learn about physical therapy. They get to try-out a wheelchair, crutches and other equipment used to enable mobility.

Every student rotates throughout the day to different classrooms focused on a specific medical need. By the day’s end, there’s a lot of understanding accomplished, Feinstein said.

American Sign Language teacher Diana Eschenbach shows sixth graders how to sign their names.
American Sign Language teacher Diana Eschenbach shows sixth graders how to sign their names.

“There’s a lot of empathy here already, but there’s always more after,” she said.