The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Dena Wood
The Times 

Waitsburg School Board Approves 'Preschool for All'

District will partner with WWCC ECEAP program

 


WAITSBURG – Making preschool available to all students, at no charge, has been a top priority for Waitsburg School Board member Marilyn Johnson, since she was elected in Sept. of 2009. That goal was met on May 11 when the board unanimously approved partnering with the Walla Walla Community College preschool program to provide free preschool to all students.

“I’m really excited that we’ll be able to give early education access to all kids. Part of the recent levy dollars were allocated for preschool. We asked the voters to support it and now we’re going to follow through,” Johnson said.

District Superintendent Carol Clarke said the district is entering a partnership with the existing WWCC early learning program. That program , formerly known as the parent cooperative preschool, adopted the state-funded Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) curriculum in January. This coming school year it will be called Waitsburg Preschool.

Through that program three- and four-year-olds from low income families, or with developmental or environmental risk factors that could interfere with school success, are provided with free enrollment. Non-qualifying students are still required to pay the monthly fee.

Johnson, however, was emphatic that all children living in the Waitsburg school district should have access to quality preschool.

As their part of the partnership, the Waitsburg School District has committed $40,000 toward covering the cost of serving 30 students. The district will also provide space at the elementary school, janitorial services, and minimal administrative support.

Walla Walla Community College will continue to manage the program and it will be up to them to determine specifics such as how many sessions there will be, what the hours will be, and how many days a week the program will run.

WWCC Early Childhood & Parent Education Director Samantha Bowen said they are hopeful there will be enough interest in the program to add an additional session, expanding from one part-day session, to two part-day sessions. She said WWCC is currently negotiating new contracts with preschool staff.

Bowen said the program includes early childhood education in a part-day preschool classroom; social and emotional development; nutritious meals and snacks; health and dental screenings; family support and parent involvement.

Johnson says she has been an ardent supporter for early education because of all the research stressing the importance of early learning – even as early as in utero – on brain development.

“In the time from age 0-5, before they usually come into kindergarten, most of a child’s brain has already been developed. If you have a child that misses out on the necessary exposure to vocabulary especially, during that time, it’s been shown that they will never catch up,” Johnson said.

“It has nothing to do with intelligence. It has to do with opportunities. If you take that same impoverished group of children – children who have not had a rich culture of education – they struggle in school, struggle with speech, they are not ready for kindergarten.

“If we intervene at age three or four, we have a much better chance of exposing all children to the same learning opportunities to help with brain development and learning,” Johnson added.

Another advantage to the WWCC partnership is the fact that ECEAP is aligned with Common Core standards and the assessments used to measure student growth is the same used in kindergarten in the state of Washington, said Clarke.

Our kindergarten teacher should be able to pull up records and see where a child started in preschool and where they are when starting kindergarten. It could potentially save a lot of time since she would no longer need to spend the first month assessing students, Clarke added.

Clarke said the district kitchen will provide one family-style meal and one snack for each preschool session, the costs of which will be reimbursed. She said ECEAP meals are served family-style to encourage engagement and social interaction.

Clarke said district-provided transportation is also reimbursable, but the problem now is finding enough staff to cover the runs. She said they are working on that now.

“Walla Walla Community College and Waitsburg School District have a long standing relationship, providing parent cooperative preschool in Waitsburg for more than 30 years. I am grateful for the support of the school district board and their recent decision to expand this opportunity to all families beginning in the fall of 2016,” said Bowen.

“I’m excited this is happening. I think it’s going to make the job for the elementary teachers better. They are going to have children more prepared or at least we’ll see those kids that need additional resources early on,” Johnson said.

Clarke said letters have gone out letting parents know about the preschool and registration forms are available in the elementary school office. Interested parties may learn more by contacting Samantha Bowen, WWCC Director of Early Childhood & Parenting Education, by calling (509) 524-5144 or emailing samantha.bowen@wwcc.edu.

 

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