Berkeley elementary schools face kindergarten enrollment boom

Maggie Soun/Staff

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A state-mandated transitional kindergarten program is in full implementation in Berkeley this year to cater to students with fall birthdays who are too young to enter traditional kindergarten classes.

The yearlong program gives children an opportunity to take a modified kindergarten curriculum before continuing on to regular kindergarten the following fall. In 2010, Senate Bill 1381, or the Kindergarten Readiness Act, changed the age of children eligible for kindergarten and created the new transitional program.

The program will also address an upward trend in kindergarten enrollment in recent years, creating more classes for an increasing number of kindergarten students.

“The focus (of the program) is to prepare kids to be successful in kindergarten,” said Alexander Hunt, principal at Malcolm X Elementary School. “We’re building a foundation. There is a lot of focus on social skills, and it’s a bit more play-based than the academic kindergarten program. It’s more like what kindergarten used to be.”

Kindergarten enrollment in the Berkeley Unified School District is set to increase by approximately 250 students from this fall to the 2015-16 school year, according to a demographic projection presented to the school board in January.

There are currently seven transitional program classes across six of the city’s 11 elementary schools.

“It is not so much that our kindergarten class this year is bigger than last year, but it is the net change in our elementary school enrollment that has grown over the last three years,” said Josh Daniels, president of the school board.

Berkeley elementary schools have expanded their facilities to accommodate the growing number of students.

This year, Malcolm X Elementary School has a kindergarten class of roughly 100 students, which is about 20 more than last year. Several classrooms have been repurposed to cater to the influx of students, including the creation of two transitional kindergarten units.

Rosa Parks Elementary School, also in Berkeley, had a transitional program last year but was unable to reinstate it this year due to a lack of campus space.

“Last year we had a record number of students,” said Paco Furlan, principal at Rosa Parks Elementary School. “Last year was a tricky year. Literally every space was being used.”

The school board will convene Oct. 8 to discuss the problems that the school district is facing, as well as the impacts that they might have on city schools, according to Daniels. Additional meetings in the coming weeks will address possible solutions to these problems.

A board subcommittee has also been created to address short- and long-term effects of enrollment growth.

“The challenge is not just for next fall, but beyond that,” Daniels said.

The program also aims to prepare children for success in elementary school and beyond.

“Kids need the informal learning experience, in terms of language and literacy, before they go into grade school,” said P. David Pearson, a professor of early literacy education at the campus Graduate School of Education. “It is an expectation. We do it to level the playing field.”

Contact Adrienne Shih at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @adrienneshih.