BY MICHAEL WALTON
TRAVERSE CITY — New state legislation is rolling back age-based enrollment cutoff dates for public school kindergartens.
Children must turn five years old on or before Nov. 1 to enroll in kindergarten for the 2013-14 school year. The cutoff date for the 2014-15 school year is Oct. 1, 2014, and the 2015-16 cutoff is Sept. 1, 2015.
The law previously required that students turn five on or before Dec. 1 of the year they enrolled in kindergarten, meaning many young students started school in the fall at age four.
Janet Troppman, principal of Holy Angels Elementary and Preschool, favored the new guidelines. She said kindergarten has changed over the last 10 or 15 years. Kindergartners used to practice the alphabet in class. Now they are writing full words and sentences.
"We have a saying," Troppman said. "Kindergarten is almost like first grade used to be."
The more advanced curriculum can pose a serious challenge to younger pupils who are not as developmentally advanced as older classmates.
"If their little bodies aren't there yet it becomes frustrating for them and school becomes frustrating for them," Troppman said.
Kindergarten teachers are used to adapting their curriculum to the wide range of abilities and skills different students start school with, Sarah Marek, a kindergarten teacher at Traverse City Area Public Schools' Eastern Elementary, said.
Marek said the new enrollment cutoff dates should help level the playing field for younger students.
"It will give them more social and emotional time to develop, as well as academic time," Marek said.
Teachers, administrators and parents all stressed the importance of pre-kindergarten education in that regard.
Libby McKay is the mother of two Traverse City Area Public Schools students. Jack McKay is in 10th grade at Traverse City Central High School and Teddy McKay is in seventh grade at East Middle School.
Jack and Teddy McKay each entered kindergarten at relatively late ages, but both started their schooling at some capacity at the age of three.
"Never, never should a child begin their education at age five," Libby McKay said.
Pre-K programs cultivate the creative skills, critical thinking, and social skills of young children, said Caroline Maier, The Pathfinder School's director of admissions.
Families then decide on an individual basis when a youngster is ready to move up to kindergarten.
"Are they ready for kindergarten academically," Maier said. "Are they ready socially?"
The new enrollment requirements can be waived in two situations. A four-year old can enter kindergarten if he or she turns five on or before Dec. 1, and a parent or guardian notifies the school district of their enrollment plans on or before June 1.
If a four-year old child moves into a new school district after June 1, he or she can enter kindergarten for that school year if written notification is submitted to the school district no later than Aug. 1.