Parents Hesitant to Enroll Their Children in New T-K Programs

2 mins read

Just over two years ago, Belle Haven Elementary established a free T-K program in East Palo Alto which prepares young children for kindergarten by improving their motor skills and providing them with fundamental education basics like learning the alphabet. Though all California public school districts are required to offer T-K per SB 1381, families can decide whether or not to have their children attend these programs and it appears many families are not taking advantage of the new program.

Justina Barrera, a third-grade teacher at Bellehaven, said that 70% of her current students did not attend the T-K program on campus. “I think some of them didn’t see a need for their children to attend the programs because they thought that kindergarten was going to teach them the same things,” she added, “many of the programs are also fairly new so they haven’t developed the reputation and trust from parents that existing private preschool programs have.” 

T-K programs can have a significant impact on students’ long-term success, though, as data shows that children who do not attend T-K programs are more likely to struggle in later education. According to a 2017 study conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), students who attended T-K had a higher grade point average than those who did not. The study also found that T-K students had better self-control in the classroom and a higher engagement rate. 

Transitional Kindergarten Student at Costaño School.
Photo by Ravenswood School District.

Increasing access to T-K could therefore help increase economic mobility by offering access to crucial education for students at an early age. According to an article by the New York Times, early educational programs may leave young children with the opportunity to break the cycle of generational poverty.    

In addition to academics, attending T-K helps students improve motor skills. Barrera said, “Children who attend a preschool engage in more hands-on activities which would help with their fine motor skills as they continue to develop. Not having access to  activities like playing with building blocks impairs a child’s ability to develop motor skills.” 

Darcy Hanson, the former lead T-K teacher at BelleHaven, added, “T-K is significantly helpful in building a student’s socializing skills. Because of this, by the start of kindergarten, they have had this exposure of being in a shared classroom setting with other students. It makes it easier in the long run for them to make friends at school.”

T-K is particularly critical for students whose second language is English. English-language learners could feel lost in class, struggling to understand their classmates and their teacher.

As of 2023, 57% of students in the Ravenswood school district are English language learners. T-K allows these students to develop English fluency earlier on, which enables them to start kindergarten without being at a significant disadvantage compared to their English-as-a-first-language peers.

Hanson said, “I had about six or seven second-language learners in my classroom. None of them knew how to speak English, but by the end of the year, I no longer had to talk to them in Spanish. They were speaking English as fluently as the rest of the students. These kids will no longer be overwhelmed with speaking English when transitioning into kindergarten.”

Challenges of getting parents to enroll their children in T-K according to AIR survey.

However, parents are still reluctant to enroll their children in these free programs. In an AIR district outreach survey, an anonymous T-K parent said, “The [other parents I know] thought it was going to be too academic, and they didn’t want academics. They wanted more play, more [socialization].” The survey also concluded that some parents didn’t want to enroll their children in these programs because they didn’t want to leave their current arrangements of childcare at home for a program that remains largely untested and generally unknown to most parents. 

While the program’s initial enrollment is relatively low, it increases access to early, free childcare and education which may help address SUHSD’s and other district’s education gaps.

Micaela is a sophomore at M-A. This is her first year in journalism, and she is excited to write about different issues and events at M-A. In her free time, she likes to dance and spend time with friends and family.

Amari Witt is a sophomore at M-A and this is her first year in journalism. She has written many music stories and hopes to write more event stories. In her free time she likes to perform with M-A Drama and she loves being with her friends.

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