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The only thing missing from this early learning class is nap time

The only thing missing from this early learning class is nap time
Children in L.A. Unified School District's expanded transitional kindergarten program join in a song with teacher Lisa Harmison during their first day of school at 186th Street Elementary in Gardena. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Lisa Harmison is a 32-year teaching veteran, but on Tuesday, she was a part of something new.

Today was the first day of class for a new Los Angeles Unified School District program called expanded transitional kindergarten.
Harmison has 24 students in her class. For the kids to have qualified, their parents had to show that their tots will turn 5 at some point after Dec. 2 in the school year. And the new program is restricted to students who are designated as either low-income, English language learners or foster youth.
On Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., the class was a scene of organized chaos. Harmison had split the students into groups, each assigned a color. They rotated between stations. At one station, the children used Lego blocks in group free play, sitting on a mat decorated with the alphabet.
A second group worked independently, gluing together precut pieces of paper to make owls, the school’s mascot. They were learning how to follow directions. At a third table, kids matched colored pieces to the shapes on a piece of paper, a practice in math manipulatives.

"Patterning in preschool is big," said Dean Tagawa, the district's early childhood education administrator. Patterns lay the foundation for math concepts later on.

For some of the kids, it's their first time in a classroom setting, and it showed. Harmison remained in motion, constantly redirecting kids into their groups like a very nice traffic cop. She reminded them of their group colors, at one point pulling a student out of the wooden mock kitchen and directing him back to the library area.

Whereas transitional kindergarten is technically part of the kindergarten program, expanded transitional kindergarten is actually more like preschool, with the goal of preparing children to take on the kindergarten Common Core standards.

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Transitional kindergarten in LAUSD is different from the expanded version in that the district is required to offer it to any child who will turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2.
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While the transitional kindergarten curriculum is closely related to kindergarten standards, it’s gentler on children, who are slightly younger than their kindergartener play pals. 
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Next door to Harmison’s class, transitional kindergarten teacher Rosa Allen sat with her kids on her own alphabet mat, reading them a story called “Kindergarten, Here I Come.” Unlike Harmison’s younger kids, fewer of these ones strayed. They sat still, quiet and listening, and for the most part, waited until they were called on to speak. At least one of them could read the title.
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“Four to six months is a huge difference” in a child’s ability to take in academic lessons, Tagawa said. A number of these children have already been through state preschool on this campus, which accepts 3-year-olds.  “They kind of get the rug, and the focus is a little bit better,” Tagawa said. 
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Given that added maturity, this classroom will be more academically focused than the expanded transitional kindergarten classroom, where “they’re just beginning to learn to sit on a rug,” school Principal Marcia Reed said.
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But for teachers like Harmison, there was one major hitch: no time for nap time. The only break in the packed day is 40 minutes long, which can barely cover lunch, a bathroom break, and quiet time to get into learning mode. Still, she said she's excited to help students prepare for the rigors of kindergarten.

Harmison added that quite a few of the expanded transitional kindergarten students had been through the state preschool too, so they were more mature than she expected. In a few weeks, she said, they’ll be as calm as their transitional kindergarten neighbors.

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