July 27, 2005 - Four-year-old Sofia Redondo has been in preschool for two years. She is smart and well adjusted but, according to the Catalina Foothills School District, she was born a few hours too late to attend kindergarten with the rest of her peers.
The district has a policy that all students entering kindergarten must be 5 years old by Sept. 1.
Sofia, born Sept. 2, missed the cutoff by a few hours.
Instead of keeping her daughter in preschool for another year and watching all of Sofia's friends go onto kindergarten, Laura Belleau decided to take advantage of a new class being offered by the district, Early Five.
Early Five will begin its pilot year in the fall, offering students a full-day class even if they don't meet the Sept. 1 cutoff.
Belleau said it would be terrible to see all of Sofia's friends attending kindergarten and not her daughter. Every student in Sofia's class will be moving on except one boy, she said, all because of the time of their birth.
"I can understand needing a cutoff," Belleau said. "She misses the cutoff by a few hours."
She said her daughter, as well as other children, shouldn't be held back for something she cannot control.
That is why Belleau is enrolling Sofia in Early Five, even if she has to pay for it.
"I would rather pay $400 a month," she said, "to have stability and continuity."
The class is offered to any students within the district who were born between Sept. 2, 2000 and Dec. 1, 2000, students who would normally have to wait until next year to attend kindergarten.
Joan Marrs, community schools director, knows other students in the district fall short of the Sept. 1 cutoff. In recent years, the district has seen an increase in district parents taking their children to private or charter schools for kindergarten for just that reason.
Marrs hopes the Early Five class will put an end to students leaving the district.
The class will be held in the district's Valley View Preschool, run by Community Schools, a group within the district that facilities relationships between the community and school by offering preschool, after-school care programs and educational programs. The class will cost about $400 a month. That's a competitive price compared with the cost of day care facilities, Marrs said.
So far, six students are enrolled, Marrs said.
The district wants to keep the class size small, so only 15 students will be accepted for the pilot year.
Belleau said Sofia would be better off having a full-day kindergarten atmosphere than she would if she attended day care.
She was paying $270 a month for day care for Sofia, which was only four days a week and for four hours.
Belleau said private schools cost much more to attend, so the $400 a month for the Early Five class is reasonable.
"They're not pricing themselves out of the market," she said, especially for all-day classes.
Early Five classes will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week.
Michelle Leeder, program director at Valley View Preschool, said the full day class will give a strong foundation to students while teaching the curriculum and educational standards of the district.
A progress assessment will be administered at the end of the year, and if all goes well the students will move on to first grade, Leeder said.
Early Five is the only class of its kind in Pima County.
"We want it to be very special and appropriate," Leeder said.
School begins Aug. 16.
For more information about Early Five, call Community Schools at 577-5304.