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May 13, 2014
Viewpoints: Want youngsters to succeed? Kindergarten is a good place to start

kindergarten.JPG(May 13 - By Dean E. Vogel, Special to The Bee)

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands ... a tune for tots that most of us relate to kindergarten. Now that you're stuck with that song, think of all the other things you learned in kindergarten that have stuck with you through the years. Fun memories.

Ten percent of our children do not get this experience because they don't go to kindergarten. These kids are also starting first grade at a distinct disadvantage. Studies have found that students who miss kindergarten start out behind, and they never catch up.

If parents were to ask me about this I would tell them kindergarten is essential to children's success in school and life. Kindergarten is where children learn to deal with alphabets and math concepts. Kindergartners learn physical skills like how to hold a pencil correctly - but they also learn basic reading and math skills.

While kindergarten attendance could help kids bridge the widely reported "racial achievement gap," not attending kindergarten can only widen the gap. In fact, a disproportionate number of the children who aren't in kindergarten are ethnic minorities, English learners and living at or below the poverty level.

Some don't go to kindergarten because attendance is not required. Many parents and guardians have reached the conclusion that because kindergarten isn't mandatory, it isn't important.

To ensure that all students have the same opportunity at that young age, California's educators are sponsoring Assembly Bill 1444, authored by Assembly Education Chair Joan Buchanan and Assembly member Shirley Weber - both longtime educators - which will ensure every young child has the benefits of kindergarten.

AB 1444 won't require children to attend just public kindergarten - those already enrolled in accredited private schools or parochial schools will satisfy the bill's provisions that will make completion of kindergarten a prerequisite to starting first grade.

The mandate will have only a minimal cost to the state, costs that will be more than offset by the higher percentage of students who will graduate from high school, instead of dropping out.

We require students to get their inoculations before they start first grade. Now it's time that we also require students to be prepped for school success by attending and completing kindergarten, too.

Dean E. Vogel, a 40-year elementary educator and school counselor, is president of the California Teachers Association.