Peninsula School District is midway through a new pre-kindergarten, early learning program called Transitional Kindergarten that launched in January. TK is a state-funded, full-day, full-week, six-month program for children who have not had the opportunity to attend preschool. The program focuses on essential academics, social-emotional skills and learning habits with the goal of reducing opportunity gaps and easing transition into kindergarten.
Serving students from across the district, TK currently operates at Evergreen, Discovery and Harbor Heights Elementary schools and is open to students turning 5 years old between September 1 and August 31 who live within PSD boundaries and demonstrate financial, academic and or social-emotional needs.
“This is a proactive approach,” PSD Director of Special Programs Lisa Reaugh said. “We take the students who have the most academic or social need and offer it to them first.”
“Transitional Kindergarten is a great opportunity to provide kids preparation for success in kindergarten,” Evergreen Elementary School Principal Hugh Maxwell said. “The chance for them to experience and build all the social skills that are the foundation of academic success later in their school careers is invaluable.”
For the past eight years, PSD has offered a program called Jumpstart every August for incoming kindergartners. The free, weeklong program gives students the opportunity to get to know their teachers, explore the school and make new friends.
“(TK) is really what we consider a six-month Jumpstart,” Reaugh said. “It looks a little bit more like a kindergarten classroom with some of those principles of preschool.”
“Sometimes what we find from the preschool world is that they don’t transition to any other adult in the building or they don’t have to do lunch on their own. Some of those things are the hardest parts,” said Reaugh, who taught kindergarten for many years. “It’s a big transition for them to walk into this world and be all alone and do it all.”
“How to solve problems, how to take care of their own materials, how to engage with a friend, how to share — all of those things that set a student up for success come kindergarten, that’s exactly what we’ve set our priorities around,” she said.
With access to specialist classes such as PE, STEM and music, TK students learn to move between classrooms and navigate the expectations of multiple teachers. They also have recess, eat lunch at school and qualify for transportation.
“They have access to math and science and literacy activities all throughout the day. It’s very much an integrated, project-based approach,” Reaugh said. “Evergreen particularly is really looking to do more things outside and have more access to play outside as well, to have lots of STEM and outdoor experiences embedded in their day.”
“I have seen so much growth in our TK’ers,” Maxwell said. “Their ability to focus, work with classmates and transition between activities are skills that are hard to develop at home with just parents and siblings. The dynamics of the transitional kindergarten classroom with 12 to 15 students gives them the opportunity to grow and nurture those skills before moving into kindergarten where teachers begin to add in the academic rigor needed for early literacy and numeracy development.”
Courtney Thigpen, whose daughter Eulila is a transitional kindergartner at Evergreen, said she could not be happier with their experience. Eulila is thriving and adores her TK teacher, Amanda Kennard, and her other teachers.
“She will be more than ready to enter kindergarten.,” Thigpen said. “We are so grateful.”
Reaugh said her department’s goal is to have an early learning program at every school. PSD also runs multiple preschool programs in its schools with varying qualifying criteria and hopes to expand the new TK program to more sites.
The current cohort will attend TK through June 21. Evergreen’s TK students will then spread out across Key Peninsula’s three elementary schools to attend kindergarten, based on where they live.
“Having a couple good models and a couple strong leaders in your class can really help shape the rest of your class,” Reaugh said. “We’re looking for those incoming kindergartners to have some good models, some kids who know exactly what to do when they get to school.”
The 2022-2023 school year TK program will begin mid-winter, with screening of eligible applicants in the fall.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS