Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Marisa Wicklund, a kindergarten teacher at Pearl City Elementary School, helped Connor McBride, 4, yesterday at school. Pearl City Elementary offers special programs over the summer that help prepare students for kindergarten and first grade.

New law raises age
for kindergarten

The law also offers "junior
kindergarten" for affected youngsters

Gov. Linda Lingle signed a bill yesterday that raises the age to enter kindergarten in Hawaii to bring it in line with the national norm, and offers "junior kindergarten" to youngsters who will be displaced.

Starting in 2006, public school children will need to turn 5 by Aug. 1 of the year they enter kindergarten, rather than the current cutoff date of Dec. 31, which is the latest in the country. Most states have August or September cutoffs.

"Because children at that age are developing at a very quick pace, a few months can make a big difference in readiness for kindergarten," Lingle said yesterday.

Struggling in kindergarten can set children up for trouble later. Studies show that Hawaii children born later in the year, especially boys, tend to have lower test scores and more of them wind up in special education. With growing pressure on Hawaii students to perform against their counterparts across the country, legislators also want to level the playing field by raising the entry age.

But the move ran into opposition from parents who would have faced another year of child care and some educators who didn't want the younger children shut out of school. The new law, introduced by Senate Education Chairman Norman Sakamoto, accommodates those concerns by allowing children whose birthdays are between Aug. 2 and Dec. 31 to enroll in "junior kindergarten" at their local public school.

"The way the bill is structured, no child will be left out," Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village) said yesterday. Because the roughly 5,000 children who would attend junior kindergarten are already part of the public education system, the plan should not require wholesale changes at schools.

House Education Chairman Rep. Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades) expressed surprise that the governor signed the measure, Senate Bill 17, CD2.

"Her education reform bill was totally silent on early childhood education and school readiness," he said. "I'm surprised and gratified that she's come around to support what we believe will lead to better student achievement."

The news that the bill had become law was welcomed at Pearl City Elementary School, which is running a three-week "jump-start" program to help prepare its incoming kindergartners and others for the new school year.

"We were waiting for it for years, we were hungry for it, because we want to level the playing field," said Principal Susan Hirokane. "It'll narrow the gap between those who are coming in with no preschool experience and those who are already sight-reading words."

Kindergarten used to be about "coloring within the lines and naptime," she said, but no longer. These days, kids are expected to decode words, deftly wield pencils and write sentences by the end of the year. Many need extra help to adjust to the structured school day.

"So many kids come in not knowing their letter names and letter sounds, and they're required by the state standards to read and write by the end of kindergarten," said Marisa Wicklund, a Pearl City Elementary kindergarten teacher. "They're expected to do so much."

"Sometimes I've noticed that cognitively and developmentally, they aren't ready to take in and retain so much."

Pearl City Elementary School parent Michelle McBride has a 5-year-old daughter, Delaney, who just completed kindergarten, and a 4-year-old son, Connor, both of whom are participating in the jump start program. She also backs the two-tiered kindergarten that will take effect in 2006.

"You want them to go into school knowing they can accomplish what they're being asked to do and feel comfortable in that," she said. "That's what I'm really worried about -- making sure he's ready."

The law gives schools the discretion to shift students between junior kindergarten and regular kindergarten as appropriate for the child. The Department of Education was allotted $100,000 to plan the new system over the next school year, with another year to test it in pilot schools, before mandating it for the 2006-07 school year.

Schools would have several options in creating the junior kindergartens. They could set aside one or more classrooms, partner with a nearby public school to provide one, work with private providers or offer two tracks within one classroom.

More for education

Gov. Linda Lingle also signed these education bills yesterday:

>> HB1893 HD2 SD1: Allows the University of Hawaii to set aside federal funds in a trust to provide scholarships to low-income students who participate in the GEAR UP program, which helps gear middle school students toward college.
>> HB2840 CD1: Establishes the Hawaii 3Ts school technology laboratories fund to encourage donations to bring computers and related equipment to public schools.
>> SB2063 CD1: Establishes a special account in the Department of Education for textbook and instructional material fees collected from students who negligently break, damage, lose or destroy such materials.
>> HB2002 CD2: Amends the Reinventing Education Act of 2004 to clarify the roles of community councils and principals and allow charter schools to be part of the weighted student formula for budgeting.
>> HB1929 CD1: Establishes a coordinator position for the Hawaii 3R's program within the Department of Education and transfers the Hawaii 3R's repair and maintenance fund to the department.

State Department of Education


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