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.

Learning Should Be Fun: A Day at Park View’s Kindergarten

Kindergarten Teacher Joyce Leas works with her young students on a counting game during a recent Game Day at Park View Elementary School.
Kindergarten Teacher Joyce Leas works with her young students on a counting game during a recent Game Day at Park View Elementary School.

It’s the end of the school year at Park View Elementary School in Simi Valley and the school’s two kindergarten classes have come together for a morning of fun.

In a busy, color-filled room, one group of students plays a dice game with partners, while another works on counting games and still another practices math through playing cards. And the group along the room’s side wall? They are at the computer stations where the children play learning games.

The computer games are a  favorite activity among the students.
The computer games are a favorite activity among the students.

It’s Game Day and the 27 kindergarteners of Joyce Leas and Teri Smyres’ classes don’t seem to notice, or mind, the educational value embedded in each of the games they play. Instead, they interact with each other while their teachers, and the three room volunteers, encourage them to work together to find the answers. And the grown-ups never seem to stop encouraging their young charges.

With three volunteers in the class, the students receive a lot of guidance and attention.
With three volunteers in the class, the students receive a lot of guidance and attention.

When you visit Park View’s campus, the first thing noticed is that the children wear uniforms. White and navy polo shirts and navy bottoms dominate the landscape. It’s the only school in the Simi Valley Unified School District that requires its students to wear uniforms, a change instituted under Principal Anthony Karch two years ago.

“The idea came partly from a parent, who is also a teacher here, who previously worked at a district with uniforms. It also came from a sense that our students needed to get a little more serious about the business of school,” Principal Karch said.

Park View is a Title I school, which is a Federal designation identifying a school with a high percentage of students coming from low-income families. Because poverty can be a barrier to a child’s education, the school receives extra funding for its students, which translates into added services and resources to help the children learn and succeed.

Learning should be fun!
Learning should be fun!

Principal Karch said that in the first year of the uniform policy, which 90 percent of the parents voted to implement, there were no significant changes in attendance or discipline issues fielded by the Principal Karch. But this year, the changes have been dramatic, and Principal Karch said he believes that uniforms are a big part of the improvements.

“Two years ago, we had 85 incidents of students coming to see me for discipline issues. This year we dropped to 55. That’s a 35 percent drop. And this year, our attendance has been phenomenal! We’re number 6 out of 21 elementary schools for good attendance,” he said.

“You can never say that the uniforms is the sole reason for the improvements; there are other factors. But it helps. And it’s just a nicer look. I love it. Today we had Principal’s Day, and one of the students thanked us in his letter for the uniforms. He said, ‘It’s so much easier for me to dress in the morning.'”

Park View also has a deep connection with the arts. Students in grades 1 to 6 who are at grade level or above in their school work can become part of the drama program. Two plays are produced annually by the students. Kindergarteners take dance classes and all of the students enjoy the school’s art program, Artist in the Classroom, where working artists come and work with the kids.

Kindergarten Teacher Teri Smyres gets very excited when her student figures out the answers.

With almost 300 students, Park View is a smaller school compared to others in the district. Principal Karch said most of those attending, about 70 percent, come from the surrounding neighborhood. But there is room for more students, especially in kindergarten, which is an all-day program. While there are more students already enrolled in kindergarten for next year, Principal Karch hopes to bring in even more.

Applications are still being accepted for kindergarten and you don’t have to live in Park View’s neighborhood to attend. Classes will end on Friday, but the school’s office will remain open until June 26. For more information, call the school at 805-520-6755 or stop by the campus at 1500 Alexander Street.

All of the students at Park View wear uniforms.
Kindergarteners enjoy separate recesses from the school's other grades.
Kindergarteners enjoy separate recesses from the school’s other grades.