Three weeks into the 2020-21 school year, student enrollment numbers released by the San Diego Unified School District show a decline in kindergarteners, underscoring concerns among district leaders who have stressed the importance of early-childhood education.
As of Sept. 16, 100,348 students were enrolled in district schools, 2,474 below the projection issued before the COVID-19 pandemic. The largest group of students not enrolled falls into the Transitional Kindergarten/Kindergarten grade levels, representing 1,682 students, or about two out of every three of all unenrolled students.
As the benefits of early childhood education are well-documented, families that have not yet enrolled their 5-year-olds in kindergarten are encouraged to do so.
“Those early grade-levels are critical times in the life of a student. They set a child up for success in later grades, not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well,” Superintendent Cindy Marten said. “I encourage families to enroll their children in kindergarten now to establish that connection with their schools and to begin their San Diego Unified education.”
San Diego Unified’s online instruction model includes live, daily teacher interaction and independent learning opportunities. All kindergarteners are issued a district Chromebook and may receive free daily breakfast and lunch at 81 distribution sites around the district.
“You simply can’t get that kindergarten year back,” Board Trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne said. “Kids soak up so much at that age,” Whitehurst-Payne said. “Whether it’s online or in-person, engaging with a teacher and fellow kindergartners is essential to a child’s progress.”
An advocate of early-childhood education for all, Whitehurst-Payne has expressed disappointment that the governor vetoed AB197 for mandatory kindergarten in California. She is hopeful the legislature will take it up again next year.
During online instruction, even the youngest students are receiving the benefits of peer interaction, both inside and outside of class time. One way that’s being fostered is through interactive social pods, like those organized throughout McKinley Elementary School for those who have signed up for kindergarten.
“All of the staff members who have kinder-age children are enrolling their kids in kindergarten, which shows the importance,” McKinley Principal Deb Ganderton said. “If my son were of school-age, I’d enroll him.”