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LAUSD Rolls Out New Early Education Programs Ahead Of State Expansion

A 4-year-old girl in a pink shirt uses a tablet computer to put together a puzzle with purple pieces. A child's drawing of a butterfly is on the desk besides the tablet.
Annandale Elementary School is one of 31 schools opening a new expanded transitional kindergarten program this year.
(Mariana Dale
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This year California committed to make a free early education program available to every 4-year-old in the state over the next five years, but some districts, including Los Angeles Unified, are not waiting to enroll younger students in transitional kindergarten.

LAUSD is opening 31 new “expanded” transitional kindergarten classrooms in schools with high numbers of students from low-income families.

“These incoming kindergarteners had no preschool access from the district in these communities,” said LAUSD Early Education Executive Director Dean Tagawa.

In pre-pandemic times, about 6,800 students were enrolled in expanded transitional kindergarten, or ETK, across almost 300 schools. The program is open to any 4-year-old child who will turn 5 in or after December of the current school year. The state currently only funds transitional kindergarten for students whose birthdays fall in a 3-month window, September to December.

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Tagawa said the benefits of the program go beyond academics.

“It's those social, emotional, foundational skills that really help these children thrive as they get into middle school and high school and the ability to make good decisions, the ability to work with others, the ability to stay on task,” Tagawa said.

A teacher in a gray shirt dances next to a 4-year-old student in a pink shirt.
Teacher Jose Rodriguez dances out a goodbye song with Annandale Elementary School's first expanded transitional kindergarten student.
(Mariana Dale / LAist)

In April, the district’s board voted unanimously to expand its early childhood education programs with the goal of providing free preschool to all 3- and 4-year olds by the 2024-25 school year. Months later, California leaders agreed on a $2.7 billion plan to make transitional kindergarten available to every 4-year-old in the state by the 2025-26 school year.

LAUSD will use COVID-19 relief dollars to get the new classrooms up and running.

The district was so eager to start the expanded program that some of the classroom furniture hasn’t even arrived yet at Annandale Elementary School in Highland Park.

A woman in a black shirt and pants stands next to a jungle gym.
Veronica Vega has been the principal at Annandale Elementary School for 7 years.
(Mariana Dale / LAist)

“Everything’s a work in progress,” said principal Veronica Vega as she showed off some of the school’s other new improvements, like repainted games on the asphalt outside the ETK classroom. “Anything that could make this school appealing and comfortable for children is what I do. One project at a time, sometimes two projects at a time.”

Vega said the school is advertising the new program on its website, in town hall meetings and to parents with other children at the school.

“What our goal is, is to close any potential achievement gap, any gaps that we might have in literacy and give the students an opportunity to become fluent readers by the end of third grade,” Vega said.

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Inside the classroom, the first student to enroll in expanded transitional kindergarten at the school took a break from dragging purple polygons into the shape of a duck on a tablet to show Vega a picture of a butterfly covered in swirls of blue and pink crayon.

“Greatness starts with one,” Vega said.

What questions do you have about early childhood education and development? What do you want to know about kids ages 0-5 and those who care for them in Southern California?
Decades of research indicates early childhood education significantly boosts children’s readiness to learn. Mariana Dale wants families, caregivers and educators to have the information they need to help children 0-5 grow and thrive by identifying what’s working and what’s not in California’s early childhood system.

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