Kindergarten readiness is a hot topic. Research tells us that 50 percent of our nation’s children are not ready for kindergarten. Last year Minnesota legislators tried to address the problem by approving funding for full-day, every day kindergarten for all school districts. But more kindergarten doesn’t prepare children for kindergarten. A quality preschool experience has become necessary for children to enter kindergarten with the skills they will need to be successful.
Stillwater Area Public Schools wants to ensure that all children in the district have access to a quality preschool experience. According to state census data there are approximately 750 four-year-olds living within the district. Licensed private preschool/childcare providers in the area enroll approximately 300 four-year-olds, while the school district’s preschool program serves another 150 four-year-olds. This means there may be up to 300 children who do not have any type of preschool experience prior to kindergarten.
We’re fortunate to have many excellent preschool options in the district. Yet, the numbers clearly show that we’re not reaching all of our children who need it. The reasons for that vary, but we know things like cost, transportation and even the location of preschools are all factors.
Most of the existing preschool - both school-based and private - are located in the northern half of district. Families living in the southern half of the district have limited access to preschool. We’re proposing to change that as part of our long-range facilities plan by providing a preschool option in all of our elementary schools.
When preschool is available in an elementary school building, teachers are able to more easily communicate about the needs of their youngest learners and create a smooth transition from preschool to kindergarten. Additionally, families tend to become more familiar with and connected to the school before their child begins kindergarten. They have the opportunity to build relationships with teachers and staff members in the school and get to know other families. Building community in neighborhoods around the elementary school where children attend helps strengthen connections between home and school. If families can begin this process before their children enter kindergarten, they will be more committed to their school and community in the years ahead. Families can also more easily access the variety of supports provided by school staff members.
Our busy families are telling us that balancing work, school, and childcare is a challenge. Many working families find it difficult to get their children to and from preschool in the middle of the day. In recent years we’ve tried to help by creating preschools in some of our elementary schools and providing bus transportation. If all children had the option of attending preschool in their neighborhood elementary school, regular bus transportation routes could be accessed with little increase to the district’s transportation costs.
Many of our own kindergarten teachers report that the gap is widening between children who have a formal preschool experience and those who begin kindergarten with no preschool experience. Those without are often at a distinct disadvantage. The best way to close the achievement gap for children entering kindergarten is to expand access to a quality preschool experience. Providing preschool options in all district elementary schools will be a giant step forward in this process.
This is part 1 of an 8 part series of articles related to the Stillwater Area Public School District’s Long-Range Facilities Plan. Learn more at www.stillwaterschools.org/facilities.