December 11, 2019

Back to the Garden: Teacher Amy Weisberg Honored for Bringing Developmental Kindergarten to Topanga

 



The happy faces of the children are testament to the skills and nurturing nature of their well admired and award-winning teacher at Topanga Elementary Charter School, Amy Weisberg. It is March, and a cool breeze blows through the spring air as the children squeal and run, jumping rope and climbing on the play structure. One boy, who used to be somewhat shy and withdrawn, has blossomed—goofing around with the other guys and laughing, yet polite and friendly to me, an adult (well sort of). I suspect it is a result of his experience in the new Developmental Kindergarten Program now in place at the school and instituted by wise Mrs. Weisberg. What a great idea whose time has certainly come!

The program is a transitional kindergarten program that is described as a sort of a “half-step” between the pre-school experience and traditional kindergarten classes. It is offered to children of a “developmental age,” between four and five years old. The students who qualify are measured by the Gesell Readiness Test. The test is really a hands-on observation and assessment conducted by a qualified professional, involving simple tasks—many designed as play—using blocks and visual tools, as well interaction with the teacher and other children. If a child is deemed an appropriate candidate, he or she may enter the program and be the fortunate recipient of a “gift of time.” The Developmental Program is a kinder, gentler version of kindergarten.

“I saw a need for the program,” reports Mrs. Weisberg, who has taught at Topanga Elementary for 13 years. “There were children who were not quite ready for kindergarten but had moved beyond the pre-school experience. This is a chance to address their needs, to give them the right start.”

This is only the second year that the program has been up and running in Topanga. Dylan Williams, who possesses a communicative maturity beyond his young years, was in the class last year. He is happily eating an ice cream after school, and between licks he recalls his participation: “It was great, I really liked it.”

His proud mother Jill speaks highly of the program saying, “It was just perfect for him. He had a wonderful time at pre-school but was ready to move on. Dylan has done really well with Mrs. Weisberg. I’m so happy he had that opportunity, and he is doing great in Mr. Harrell’s kindergarten class now.”

Mrs. Weisberg explains that many students enter elementary school because their birthdays fall within the time of qualification, but that is not always an accurate gauge of readiness. Some are just not really at the kindergarten level that requires, among other things, the ability to sit still and focus, as well as a certain level of emotional development.

“When we looked at the statistics of students who were not currently performing at the desired level in our school we discovered that 32 out of 34 of them had birthdays that placed them on the young side of the scale. These are probably students who would have benefitted from this program if it had been in place earlier. Intervention at an early age will have long-lasting positive effects.”

Linda Hinrichs, RIE educator and local director of Children’s Corner Play Center—one of the Canyon’s most popular pre-schools from which many of Topanga Elementary’s young students hail—pronounces, “Amy Weisberg’s kindergarten class is a dream come true. Part of kindergarten should be a garden of play, without putting overemphasis on academic achievement. Developmental kindergarten is the wave of the future.”

Standards for the program match the State kindergarten standards, but are taught through a variety of curricular materials. Mrs.Weisberg says the program is not based on mastery but is seen as an introduction or safe place to explore concepts and skills that will be part of a more formalized kindergarten experience in the following year. Students are offered a professionally constructed curriculum without sacrificing their equally evident developmental needs for movement, shortened work periods and extra playtime. “Knowing that younger does not in any way mean less intelligent, it is known and respected that each child has areas that are developmentally ready and some that are not. In this program we seek to work with the whole child,” says Mrs.Weisberg.

At the end of the term the child’s progress is evaluated to assess the best placement for her or him in the next school year. Most students will move on to traditional kindergarten, while some will progress to first grade.

For her development of this unique and invaluable kindergarten program, the down-to-earth Mrs. Weisberg is the worthy recipient of the Lori Petrick Educator Award, bestowed by the Palisades Charter School Foundation. The award honors excellence in education delivery and recognizes the best of practices utilized in K-12. Mrs. Weisberg was selected from ten finalists and is most deserving of the honor.

Amy Weisberg has taught pre-school, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third, fourth and sixth, but she admits, “Kindergarten is my favorite.”

She has taught for 27 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District, including stints in East Los Angeles, South Central, the east San Fernando Valley and Canoga Park, before happily landing at Topanga. Her credentials include a B.A. in sociology from UCSB, a teaching credential from CSUN and a language development specialist credential. Happily married for 25 years, she is justly proud of her three artistic and accomplished daughters, Kimberly, Nicole, and Danielle. Currently Mrs. Weisberg is enrolled in a master’s degree program through Grand Canyon University and will be working towards her masters in education administration with an emphasis on organizational leadership.

In her classroom, down near the garden, she has patiently labored to teach and nurture Topanga’s children, much like a gardener tending her tender plants. And as all plants and flowers are different—with unique needs, requiring individual attention—this gardener has had the inspired vision to cultivate a rich and fertile groundwork that will yield budding, strong, young sprouts in the form of happy and successful Topanga students. That beautiful bouquet is a gift to us all.