Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Local school district officials are hoping to reinstate a popular full-day pre-K program next fall by helping fund costs.
But, according to JISD public information officer Marc McCloud, “the numbers have to be there to make it feasible for us to do so.”
To help gauge interest, the district will host a three-day registration period, Feb. 27-March 1 from 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. at the JISD administration building located at 1547 E. Pine.
JISD state and federal programs director Tina Stewart said that the state provided funds for the district through the Foundation School Program for districts to offer a half-day pre-K program for children who meet eligibility guidelines, such as those who are non-English speakers, who are from military or low-income families, who are or who have been in foster care, or who are homeless.
Since 2011, however, the state budget no longer provides an opportunity for districts to apply and receive the Prekindergarten Early Start grant that helped offset costs for a full-day program.
“JISD will go ahead and attempt to offer a full-day of Pre-K instruction for the 2013-14 school year,” if there are “enough parents wanting their children to participate in the program,” she said.
Registration for students will be Feb. 27-March 1, and “a final decision as to whether to offer the full-day program will be made based on the number of students registering for the program,” Stewart said.
Fred Douglass Elem-entary principal Dr. Amber Penn called the move a much-needed one “because we know the educational need is there.
“It's just such a great program,” she said. “Educationally, pre-K is so crucial – it's academically, socially and emotionally (needed). Aca-demically, the children that go to pre-K are so ready for kindergarten. They're so ready to learn, they have all the pre-literacy skills, they have their academic skills, they have the emotional and social skills that they need to enter kindergarten.
“We see a vast difference between the children who have attended pre-K and those who have not,” she added. “It's just a big leg up for those children.”
Overall, JISD has 201 elementary school students in pre-K programs at Fred Douglass, West Side, Joe Wright and East Side campuses, according to McCloud.
Penn said that her campus once offered five full-day sessions, but now only offers four half-day pre-K sections, as well as a full-day federally-funded Headstart program. Three instructors oversee approximately 60 students ages four and five.
“The educational need for pre-K for every child is just crucial, because it really gives a child a heads-up. From the re-search I've read, it really makes a difference,” she said.
Pre-K teacher Sherry Thomas agreed.
Going to a full-day program will allow instructors to “spend more time with literacy, which is absolutely important,” she said. “We'll have more story time where we can ask better questions to prepare them for kinder and first grade, as well as for (state testing). In math, if we can get more in depth with numbers and how they work, we can talk about (terms like) 'more than' and 'less than.'”
In addition, there would be more opportunity to help children develop social skills, “which are very important,” she added.
“Right now, my morning class definitely does not get to go eat lunch or get to go through rotation, and those are all social skills (that are part of those activities). We try, but it's not (the same as it would be) all day. The social aspect is very important,” Thomas said.
Also, Penn said, these youngsters would be able to participate in PE classes, as well as music and art, which would help broaden their education.
“We want to be able to educate the whole child,” she said.
For now, students in the Fred Douglass half-day class attend class every day from 7:45 to 10:40 a.m. Should the district lengthen the program to a full day, they would be in class until 2:45 p.m. daily and will follow the same calendar other JISD students do.
“The importance of pre-K is that if they go into kinder and have never been in a classroom environment, they're going to start off behind – I've seen kids who have never been in school before and they're behind. But when we can get them ready for kindergarten, those babies are not going to struggle,” Thomas said. “They're going to hit the floor running.”
Penn encouraged parents of preschoolers to contact the district about increasing the program to a full-day offering, especially by registering their children.
“We're trying to really make sure we have the numbers” to be able to get the program back into place, she said. “We just think it's that important.”
For more information, contact the district administration office, 903-586-6511, or visit www.jisd.org for required documentation for registration.