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Davis, California

Monday, July 15, 2024

Column: Too school for cool

Every Nov. 29, I celebrate another year of my existence on this planet we call earth. The following exchange happens at least 26 times throughout the day. Stranger: “Happy Birthday!” Me: “Thanks!” When this doesn’t fill the daily quota for human-human interaction time, people tend to add, “So, how old are you?”

As standard as this inquiry is on anyone’s birthday, my answer always seems to prompt this, not so normal comeback: “What grade did you skip?”

Until September of last year, Californian children could enroll in kindergarten so long as they were born before Dec. 2. Now, due to some low state test scores and the “explorative” nature of four-year-olds, the Senate has passed SB 1381, which has moved the kindergarten cut off date from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1. The bill is expected to take full effect in 2014.

While this change may seem harmless to all of you summer babies, those of us that celebrate our births at the end of the calendar year owe a lot of life decisions and strange comments to Dec. 2. I suppose you could say that we believe in kindergarten.

In attempts to address the 120,000 students who will be affected by the change in date, the bill has created “transitional Kindergarten,” a pre-kindergarten year that is meant to prepare the late-borners who aren’t quite ready for real kindergarten.

It is widely agreed among lawmakers and teachers that the current kindergarten curriculum is nothing like it was 10 years ago. In the words of Senator Joe Simitian of Palo Alto, “It’s a pretty rigorous place these days, and the youngest are struggling to keep up.”

While I respect teachers as much as anyone can, and acknowledge that school districts are forced to make state testing a priority, I can’t help but wonder if this bill is a sign of disbelief.

We shouldn’t forget that kindergarten, as we experienced it, was monumentally significant in our development as small humans.

In 1980, a study known as “Project STAR” was developed by a Tennessee research team who sought to uncover whether or not someone’s early education experience could influence their prosperity later in life. In attempts to address this question, the researchers documented the lives of 12,000 children from kindergarten to adulthood.

Thirty years later, a group of Harvard professors used the data collected in Tennessee and concluded that it is more likely for children to go to college if they had a good learning experience in kindergarten. Consequently, the Harvardians found that at age 27, these college-bound individuals generally made at least $1,000 more a year than their average achieving kindergarten classmates.

A birthday cannot possibly define a child. By bringing the cut-off date forward, it seems to me that we are neglecting to acknowledge the power one year of kindergarten can have in fundamentally influencing a student of any age, both academically and socially.

Granted, I haven’t been exposed to the new kindergarten, but I know plenty of late-borners like myself who have not only have flourished in school, but also remain rather attached to their youth.

UCD sophomore biological sciences major, Nyssa Spector, was born on Dec. 4, a whole two days after the cut-off date (gasp). Despite her day of birth, Spector shared that she’s never felt the negative repercussions of her age in the academic setting. Her parents and preschool teachers knew she was ready to start kindergarten at age four and she’s turned out great.

I don’t know about you, but if I were a bill, I wouldn’t try to tell parents and teachers that they’re wrong about a student’s abilities. I have enough genius nieces and nephews to know that kids can seem kindergarten-ready to non-experts like me, as early as age two.

I’d like to think that we can all believe in kindergarten. It really was a great, unforgettable year.

I can say with certainty that the age diversity among the members of my kindergarten class contributed to my growth as a student and a human being. Life wasn’t harder because I was four, just a little different.

Kids are extremely intelligent human beings who don’t deserve to be academically sorted by their birthday. Kindergarten works. It worked for the adorable four-year-old me, and it worked for my admittedly more adorable five-year-old brother.

So the next time you encounter a September 2-December born four-year-old, make the choice to remind them of their greatness, and raise your glass of grape juice to kindergarten.

MAYA MAKKER wishes the characters on “Lost” had island-themed birthday parties. Share your ideas for Richard Alpert’s parties via mgmakker@ucdavis.edu. He has a lot of birthdays.



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