Stepping into the preschool classroom of teacher Rebecca Flores-Acosta at Woodlake Elementary School (Twin Rivers USD), visitors were met with tree branches hanging from the ceiling and student art projects on the walls that transformed the space into a magical forest realm. Children were learning important lessons at circle time as they recognized each other’s written names. They then became engrossed in a rich vocabulary-building lesson about forest animals. Seated in a cozy circle on the floor around their kind and engaging teacher, the children eagerly answered questions about the day’s focus animal: the great horned owl. The children, several of whom are dual language learners, passed pictures of animals to one another, each one repeating the animal’s name. “That’s scary,” said one student about a photo of a large snake, but the teacher quickly reminded her it was just a picture. Innocence and exuberance abounded, and the intentionally-planned lessons addressing social, emotional, and academic skills helped prepare the students for kindergarten and beyond.
Tuesday’s classroom visitors were part of the California Policy Collaborative, a group that provides professional learning and experiences for legislative staff to build knowledge and expertise that will help them inform policymakers. Participants included staff representing the California State Senate and Assembly as well as several policy committees. Their visit focused participants on high-quality early learning programs amidst the state investments in Universal Prekindergarten (UPK) and the overarching preschool–third (P–3) initiative.
The Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) partnered with the California County Superintendents association and Twin Rivers Unified School District to coordinate the tour and a lively and informative discussion that included SCOE, district, and school leaders. A former preschool parent also participated. Discussion topics ranged from personal childhood experiences to the indoor and outdoor learning environments that were observed. Attendees also discussed the social and emotional challenges students face after the return from COVID-19 remote learning.
“The group enjoyed observing a classroom that is clearly built on a philosophy of a ‘community of learners’–and that includes the teaching staff,” said Julie Montali, Executive Director of the SCOE Early Learning Department. “The integration of learning was apparent as Ms. Flores-Acosta folded math, literacy, and language into the classroom interactions. The key is sustaining that rich learning by rolling this instructional approach into the early grades, creating a true P–3 continuum.”
California Plans for Universal Prekindergarten
Transitional kindergarten (TK) is being made universally available in California through Assembly Bill 130. By the 2025–26 school year, California will have a Universal Prekindergarten system that maximizes parent choice for providers, programs, and settings. The goal is for all four-year-olds to have the opportunity to participate and thrive in a supportive learning environment that helps prepare them for success in kindergarten.
Along with the expansion of available programs comes a dramatic increase in the need for early education teachers. SCOE is coordinating a regional partnership called SacE3 to help the state meet a workforce development goal of increasing the number of California early education teachers by 11,000. SacE3 efforts include:
- Incentives for Early Learning and Care Educators—stipends to help early learning and care educators acquire, upgrade, or maintain their Child Development Permit
- Opportunities for Aspiring Teachers—$10,000 tuition support to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Child and Adolescent Development from CSUS and $7,000 towards an internship program to become a Transitional Kindergarten teacher