Groton school district pilots Transition Kindergarten program

Groton — The Groton Public School district is piloting a new program this year intended to build the skills and confidence of young children so they will be ready to learn in kindergarten the next year, Assistant Superintendent Susan Austin said.

The Board of Education has approved a one-year pilot for a Transition Kindergarten program for the 2019-20 school year.

Transition Kindergarten is intended to provide students, who are eligible for kindergarten and are still 4 years old, with "a developmentally appropriate program" and support so they "will have a smooth transition into kindergarten the following year," according to a district flyer. Kindergarten-eligible children who are 4 and turning 5 between Sept. 1 and Jan. 1 and have limited preschool experience may be eligible for the program.

Typically, a kindergarten class has a wide range of ages and development levels, with kids between 4 years old and 6 years old, Austin said.

In Connecticut, if a child turns 5 years old on or before Jan. 1 of a school year, he or she can enter kindergarten in the preceding fall, state Department of Education Spokesman Peter Yazbak said.

Connecticut has rigorous Common Core State Standards and is the only state where children are eligible for kindergarten if they are age 4 up until Jan. 1, Austin said.

For a typical 5-year-old, the Common Core standards are developmentally appropriate, but some 4-year-olds might find the standards a little too rigorous at this stage of their development, she said.

A task force, which included kindergarten, preschool and prekindergarten teachers working closely with administrator Nadine Macklin, has been collecting data for several years and noticed that typically the Groton school district had at least 18 to 25 kids, mostly children on the younger end who had limited preschool experience, who often struggled in kindergarten because their skills and development just weren't there yet, Austin said. The district noticed the number of students being retained was increasing.

Teachers said a program incorporating early learning development standards for part of the year and then an introduction to the Common Core standards would help the students "be off and running" when they enter kindergarten the following year.

So the district developed the Transition Kindergarten program that will be engaging and appropriate for young learners and will incorporate early standards, play, socialization, early literacy skills, read-alouds, early math concepts and performing arts, among other elements, Austin said.

"I'm very excited about it and the teachers are very excited," Austin said. "I feel that we’re creating an opportunity for our youngest children to become more successful in school."

The school district already has half-day preschool programs for special-needs students and typical peers ages 3 to 4, as well as one extended day program; half-day pre-kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds; and a collaboration with Children First Groton and community preschool partnership, according to a June presentation to the Board of Education.

The Transition Kindergarten program will be at no additional cost to the district, and has slots for 18 students, Austin said. School officials are slated to report back to the board with updates and data on how the pilot program is going.

The district held a kindergarten screening this spring and students who may be eligible for Transition Kindergarten are being brought in for additional screenings that will be held Wednesday, Aug. 7, at Claude Chester Elementary School and the Hess Center, and Thursday, Aug. 8, at S.B. Butler Elementary School. A screening also was held this past Wednesday at Charles Barnum Elementary School. Appointments can be made by calling the school district at (860) 572-2175.

The Groton school district is advising parents who are interested in Transition Kindergarten, as well as those who are planning to have their children start kindergarten but did not attend the spring screening, either because they missed it or are new to the area, to contact the district. For students who did not attend the spring screening, the district will hold screenings on Aug. 30 and 31.

Parents have a voice in the decision and can contact Groton Public Schools for more information.

k.drelich@theday.com

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