Are you planning on enrolling your child in kindergarten this school year? If he or she turns 5 years old after July 31, think again.
Starting in the upcoming school year, students must be 5 years old by the July 31 cutoff date to enter the public kindergarten program. There will be no junior kindergarten program – it was repealed, through Act 178, in order to develop a public-private preschool program in the future.
As of now, the option for parents of late born 5 year olds is to find other arrangements. In an information packet provided by the Department of Education, the state recommends four options: group childcare centers, family childcare, family-child interaction learning programs and home visiting programs.
According to Angela Thomas, program leader of Baby Steps to Stronger Big Island Families, there are approximately 5,100 students across the state that will be affected by the new law for the upcoming school year.
In Waimea alone, there will be about 100 students affected. Thomas said that with fewer of them able to access public education, it could interfere with future learning if other provisions aren’t made.
“We already have a problem of not enough kids going to preschool,” Thomas said. “We should be growing the pot, not supplanting it.”
Scott Tamura, principal of Waimea Elementary School said he now has two classes of junior kindergarten that will be eliminated next year.
“If we look at this year, it is 40 students that won’t be there next year,” he said. “It definitely affects us.”
Thomas said there are now only 40 to 50 percent of students in North Hawaii that attend preschool compared to the state average of 60 percent. Thomas said she worries most about getting early information to parents of students who are not in preschool or any other program.
“It will be a really big surprise when they go to register,” she said.
Parents do have an opportunity for preschool subsidies through the Department of Human Services and the Preschool Open Doors program. Applications for the state’s POD program are being accepted until April 30 for the upcoming school year for low-income eligible families. Their website is patchhawaii.org.
The Executive Office on Early Learning and the State Department of Education proposed to create a prekindergarten program in 32 classrooms on 30 public elementary school campuses throughout the state through a School Readiness Program. Unfortunately, the program will only accommodate about 640 students of the 5,100. If the bill is passed as written, Honokaa Elementary School will be the only North Hawaii school selected. The program is based on income and students must be 4 years old by July 31 to apply. According to Rory Souza, principal of the school, more information will be released on the program in the next several months.
Tamura said that registration is now open for next year’s kindergarten program, and incoming students are given a packet of information to prepare.
“The sooner we get people registered, the better we can plan (for next year),” he said.
There are several requirements to fulfill before a student can enter kindergarten, such as a tuberculosis test, physical exam, completed immunizations, a birth certificate copy and proof of residency.
“Community wide, everybody is going to have to start early with the process to offer additional support,” Tamura said. “We have to really work together to help students increase readiness and have more preschool opportunities.”
The Waimea Elementary School campus also offers three preschool programs to help area parents – Head Start and Kalo preschool programs and a Baby Steps playgroup that meets twice a week for 90 minutes.
“If they are not in a program, or are not in an official preschool, we are happy to take some time out and having trainings,” Tamura said.
He said he welcomes parents of children who would not qualify for kindergarten to visit the school. He said that the office has information on other available programs and also resources to help caregivers prepare children to enter kindergarten.
“In tests comparing students (who have preschool experience) with students that haven’t had it, there is a significant difference in their readiness,” he said.
Kris Kosa-Correia, principal of Waikoloa Elementary School, said about 40 students will not qualify for kindergarten in her area due to the age change.
Though she has very little school space, there is a preschool migrant education program that meets on her campus twice a week for two hours. Though her campus is filled to capacity, with even an addition of two portable trailers for classes this year, she also believes in the importance of preschool education.
“There is a need and I just hope people are able to step up and help out,” she said.
For more information, visit the Executive Office on Early Learning at earlylearning.hawaii.gov or call 808-586-0796.