Pre-K programs growing: Flush with federal cash, district schools catch kids early

Posted: Monday, February 15, 2010

If the kids in school seem to be getting a little smaller, it might be true, at least in some Kenai Peninsula Borough School District buildings.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Richard Griffin stretches his legs on the playground equipment during a recess for Mountain View Elementary School's pre-kindergarten students last week. Pre-k programs are sprouting up across the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District as a result of increased availability of federal dollars.

When several schools found they had access to increased Title I spending through federal stimulus dollars for the next two years they launched pre-kindergarten programs this past fall.

Title I money that the district receives is already used for students who come from impoverished homes to support learning.

According to Steve Atwater, the district superintendent, in the past the money was typically used to support an additional position in a building.

Nikiski North Star Elementary however, has been using their Title I money to fund a pre-k program for several years now.

"They offered the program with the theory that if they get these students who need extra help early, they won't need it later," he said.

Sandy Miller, the assistant director of federal programs for the district, said the pre-k program in Nikiski has grown in popularity.

"They started with one session. The next year the community and parent council said we needed two sessions. At this point the Nikiski program is solid and there's no way they're going to lose that program, it's entrenched," she said.

It's perhaps not a surprise then that Chapman Elementary in Anchor Point, Mountain View Elementary in Kenai, Soldotna Elementary and Tustumena Elementary in Kasilof have all launched programs this year with the increased availability of the additional funding.

Approximately 100 preschoolers are enrolled across the district.

Meanwhile, Redoubt Elementary in Soldotna is planning on launching a program their next year.

The district is specifically targeting certain student groups for the program.

Priority is being given to homeless or low-income students.

While an enrollment protocol is being developed, the district is looking for students who are not already enrolled in a private preschool.

If all the seats offered at a program aren't filled, the school can then offer them to other students.

"Were not trying to close down private schools," Miller said. "Students who attend those come from families that are typically able to fund those."

Miller explained that kindergarten teachers have noticed over the years that students coming into school from disadvantaged homes weren't always prepared for school.

"Really what they're seeing each fall is that we have more kindergartners who are not prepared for kindergarten," she said. "Specifically we're talking about Title I schools that had students who didn't know how to handle a book, have the social skills to be able to work with a group of children, they didn't know colors or basic shapes and a lot of those things that indicate readiness for school, these kids are missing."

While the programs are operated through federal and state guidelines, a big part is offering socialization opportunities and getting students comfortable with the school setting.

Miller said there are still a few spaces available at some of the programs and that when registration for next year opens in spring, she expects waiting lists to form.

As to what Miller expects to happen with the programs when the stimulus dollars run out after next year and schools go back to regular Title I funding, she said: "Once these programs get up and rolling and folks see the advantage and difference it makes for kids, I'd be surprised to see them go away. I see them taking hold and sticking around."

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.



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