Defense Schools Raise Age Requirements for Early Childhood Education

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2009 - Young military children who thought the first day of school was imminent may not have to worry about reading, writing and arithmetic until next year because of a change in entrance age requirements.

The new rule, which goes into effect this fall with the start of the 2009-2010 school year, requires that students reach the pre-established age by Sept. 1. Students must be 4 years old to enroll in pre-kindergarten or the Defense Department's Sure Start program. Kindergartners must be 5, and first graders, 6. Under current rules, children have to reach the above ages by Oct. 31.

The Department of Defense Education Activity made the change after research showed that 36 states require kindergartners to be 5 by Sept. 1 or earlier, Marc Mossburg, chief of curriculum for DoDEA, said.

"This was done nationally for a variety of reasons, but it basically gives most kids a sure start in kindergarten and first grade," Mossburg said. "We did make the choice to align ourselves with the nation. We're trying to keep pace with the nation and trying to make sure our military kids have that advantage."

DoDEA's decision to implement the change also was, in part, an effort to ease the transition of students who start in a defense school, but then transfer to a public school, Mossburg said.

"We wanted to make sure that our kids, if they go to kindergarten and they transfer to a first grade in the States, that they are ready to enter that first grade," he said.

Consequently, students who have completed a year at an accredited kindergarten and then transfer to a DoDEA school can enroll in first grade regardless of whether they meet the age requirement, Mossburg said. There are considerations for kindergartners who transfer after starting school but before completing kindergarten, as well.

"We realize we deal with the military population. Our exceptions are based upon those families who [transfer] here and they've already started kindergarten," he said. "They're enrolled in kindergarten. They're going to kindergarten for a week, or a month, or six months and they're younger and they come into our [program], we don't say, 'Oh, you don't meet our [age requirement].'

"We accept them, but that's where the exceptions are; those students whose parents are [transferring] during the school year," he added.

Mossburg knows that some parents and students eagerly awaiting that first day of school may be disappointed in DoDEA's decision, but he's confident the change was made in the best interests of the students.

Lori Pickel, DoDEA's acting early childhood coordinator, who has already encountered this situation, agrees. Her son didn't meet North Carolina's age requirement to start kindergarten when the military family was stationed in the state. But, she said, how that realization affects students is really up to the parents.

"We all know that our kids' first teachers are parents," she said. "We set the stage in our attitude and the way we're going to accept it.

"You ... as the parent, have to choose: Is it going to be a positive or a negative?" she said.

Parents whose students don't meet the age requirements by Sept. 1 have options for their children, including the Defense Department's child development centers, Mossburg said. The centers teach a developmental program like that used in DoDEA's preschools.

In addition, if a parent feels their student can handle some advanced work, regardless of their age, DoDEA offers parent guides by grade on its Web site. The guides provide grade-appropriate standards and activities.

*Related Sites:*
Department of Defense Education Activity  [ ]
Defense Schools Raise Age Requirements for Early Childhood Education [ ]