JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — First-grade readiness was a priority of Governor Kay Ivey’s State of the State last Tuesday night. Ivey is calling on state legislators to make kindergarten a mandatory part of the educational journey in Alabama, laying it out as “Strong Start, Strong Finish.”

Right now, kindergarten is not a requirement to enter the first grade in the state. This is something Jefferson County Elementary Curriculum Director Dr. Angela Watkins hopes will soon change.

“As a former kindergarten teacher myself it really just made my heart smile to hear her say that,” Watkins said. “This will just really push our students to the next level.”

Watkins said their curriculum teaches five-year-olds important skills like handwriting, practicing sounds, letters and giving speeches, which help to set them up for success beyond first grade.

Representative Pebblin Warren has tried several times to introduce this bill, she said it never makes it past the senate.

“We’re not saying it’s mandatory, we’re saying it’s the first-grade readiness to make sure once the student gets to first grade they are ready to perform and they are on the same level as all the other students in their class,” Warren said. “Once a student gets to the third grade if they’re not performing up to par they’re going to have to repeat the third grade. Why wait until a student has to get to the third grade? We’re going to have to find ways of making sure that student has a solid foundation.”

Watkins said Jefferson County students without a kindergarten foundation are set back – so she and other leaders meet with their parents to emphasize the importance of these early years of education.

“They like what we’ve had to say, they really want their students to be successful and they usually go with our recommendation of staying in kindergarten,” Watkins said. “If we can get this started and going, we definitely stand behind it.”

Typically, Jefferson County will have an open house in April to kick off signups for kindergarten. Participants must be five years old to attend.

In Shelby County, spokesperson Cindy Warner said they serve over 1,400 kindergarten students, but just over 1,600 enter the first grade after attending programs run by churches or other preschool providers.