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Calif. Two-Year Kindergarten Program Bridges Preschool, K-12

California's new two-year kindergarten program was designed to better align students' developmental readiness with state curriculum, but the effort has had an unintended effect: It's bridging the divide between the early-childhood community and the K-12 system, a scenario other states are interested in replicating.

"This has been a wonderful connector of our two systems," said Whit Hayslip, an early-years consultant who is helping to implement California's Transitional Kindergarten program, in an interview. "It's actually forced all of us to the table. We're aligning documents and looking at how you have a continuum of instruction."

State lawmakers created the two-year program in 2010 after altering kindergarten eligibility requirements, said Camille Maben, the executive director of First Five California, a governmental program created to support the development of young children.

Now children who turn five years old in the fall attend Transitional Kindergarten--a step between preschool and California's more rigorous kindergarten year--before matriculating to that class.

When fully phased in, children who celebrate their fifth birthdays between September 2 and December 2 will enter the Transitional Kindergarten; those with earlier birthdays that same year will go straight to the second phase of the kindergarten experience.

Prior to the implementation in the current school year, pre-K and K-12 systems operated in mostly separate spheres despite having public funding in common, Hayslip said. Today, the entire system is already more streamlined.

Starting this year, 39,000 4-year-olds with fall birthdays started into TK classes, Maben said. When the program is fully implemented in two more years, there will be 120,000 children enrolled.

California school districts are required to offer TK and kindergarten programs but participation in either program is not required, Maben added.

Still, "it's an opportunity for young children and their families—especially for those who haven't had an early-education experience," she said.

To date, the feedback from families has been mostly positive, Hayslip said.

"The biggest thing on the minus side," he said, "is that there's a lot of birthday cupcakes in November."

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