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Lessons Learned Early: Kids Will Be Able To Wait An Extra Year For VPK

VPK student John Seng is sitting in his classroom, Monday.
Lindsey Kilbride
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

In our “Lessons Learned Early” series, WJCT is following one prekindergartener through his first year of school.

Florida’s state-funded voluntary prekindergarten program has been limited to 4-year-olds, until now. Next year’s batch of young learners can wait until they’re 5 years old for VPK,as long as they don’t turn 6 before February.


On Monday afternoon, John Seng had just finished up "centers," a time when he and his classmates can do art projects, play cashier or practice writing letters. John was waiting on his dad to pick him up at his VPK on the University of North Florida campus.

“I made a story and stuff for the calendar and I made a mask,” said John, listing off what he had created in class Monday.

When John’s dad Henry Seng walked through the front door he had John’s final assessment scores with him. The school year is ending in a few weeks.

“He had the highest numbers for each of the categories,” Seng said. “So he did really well on all the categories for all the testing areas.”

The state requires VPK students take assessments to gauge if they’ve improved over the year. They’re tested in four areas: written language, phonological awareness, vocabulary and math.

John shows off his class assignments including a story, math problem and mask he created during his free time, Monday.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
The Florida Channel
John shows off his class assignments including a story, math problem and mask he created during his free time, Monday.

John received the highest possible score in each category. But when he began, he was exceeding expectations in most areas. Not all kids start off that way. With increasingly rigorous standards, some kids aren’t ready at age 4, said John’sVPKdirectorMahreenMian."They cannot grasp certain concepts that they need to know," she said. "Now we are pushing for the children to know a lot.”

And the children, she added, also need to be socially ready for school, as well.

“They struggle with getting along with the other children,” Mian said. “... They’re not ready for small groups; they’re not ready to sit down and do any type of activities.”

That’s why she says it’s a good thing the state Legislature changed the rules.Similar legislation to allow parents to hold their 4-year-old back a year failed in the past.

Director of the Early Learning Coalition of Duval, Susan Main, supports the new rule.

“Maybe 10, 15 years ago there was more play and I think it was thought of more as a go and have an experience, but now it’s more intentional,” she said. “The play is more intentional. The teachers are intentionally using the play for learning.”

Mian listed accountability and structure and two major changes since prekindergarten education became controlled by the state.  

And although parents across the country are pushing for fewer assessments, Seng said he finds the scores helpful. John scored below average in math back in September.  

“Before we saw the result of that test, we did not focus on math, and all because the mantra for kids is to read to them, right? So if it wasn't for that test result that woke us up, we would not have had the opportunity to spend time on math,” he said.

John also works on math in school.

“I learned about math problems,” he said Monday. “There was like a turtle thing and then numbers and then we got to roll the dice and then color in all of the same numbers.”

John says he’s really excited to start kindergarten next fall, mostly about the school’s big playground.

During his first 30 days of kindergarten, he’ll be tested again to see if the lessons learned in VPK stuck with him all summer.

Series Part 1, Part 2

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.