Off to a good start

A state-funded preschool program is serving 65 students from low-income families in Jackson County in its first year.

The number of 4-year-olds enrolled in On My Way Pre-K classes is lower than the Jackson County Education Coalition had hoped for, but officials remain optimistic the program will grow over the next two years.

“We had anticipated serving 100 children this year,” said Natasha Langford, On My Way Pre-K manager. “We had well over 100 applications.”

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She’s not sure why the number fell short of the goal established by the coalition that oversees the program. It could be because families who had applied moved away before the start of school or decided they did not want to enroll their children in school yet, she said.

Before the program started, it was estimated 255 students in the county were eligible to participate and were not enrolled in a preschool at the time.

But Langford said that number changes.

“The number of children not receiving services is truly an unknown,” she said.

Langford said the coalition is proud of increasing the number of Level 3 preschool providers in the county from three to 13, adding overall capacity to serve more children.

“We set our sights on having a total of 10 available approved providers by the end of the enrollment process,” she said. “We were very pleased to have exceeded that by having 13 providers sign up to participate.”

Since the program has already been approved for a second and third year, Langford said, the coalition continues to seek out additional providers and sources of funding.

To be eligible to offer On My Way Pre-K services, a facility must have met all the requirements to be designated a Level 3 provider through the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s Paths to QUALITY rating and improvement program. A Level 3 out of the four levels means the school has high-quality curriculum in place that supports early childhood learning and school readiness.

‘For some it’s a struggle’

The designation allows the provider, in turn, to accept state-funded preschool vouchers from approved, low-income families.“We know from research, low-income children who are not in a high-quality, early-learning program have a higher likelihood of not being kindergarten ready,” Langford said. “By the end of grade school, those children are likely to be up to two grade levels behind other children.”On My Way Pre-K classes started at various locations in the county this fall, including at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School in Seymour. That program is being run by Child Care Network.

Teacher Sara Blubaugh said her students at Brown have adapted well to the preschool environment.

“Being in the school building, they have to learn the school rules too,” she said. “For some it’s a struggle, especially for those who haven’t spent a lot of time with other kids their age.”

Blubaugh teaches one 3½-hour class in the morning and one in the afternoon Monday through Thursday, instead of going for 2½ hours a day five days a week.

“That has worked out really well,” she said.

She has 11 students in each class.

The first year of the program wraps up May 18.

In On My Way Pre-K, children learn how to share, take turns and be kind to others along with how to cut with scissors, how to properly hold crayons and pencils and how to use the restroom on their own.

Academically, they first learn to identify letters, numbers, shapes and colors and then begin writing, reading and doing simple math.

“One of the biggest things I see is in their writing,” Blubaugh said. “We work on writing their name right off the bat.”

Since her class is mainly Latino students, Blubaugh said, they teach in both English and Spanish. “They pick it up easily,” she said. “They are just so smart.”

Multiple opportunities

Student Jeremiah Pierre said his favorite part of attending On My Way Pre-K is participating in centers, where students explore math, reading, art and other subjects and learn different skills.He said he has learned to identify and write letters, including how to spell and write his name.Jayden Hernandez Rodriguez said he has liked learning the letters, numbers and colors, especially because Blubaugh gives the class both the English and Spanish versions. He added that his favorite part about preschool also is the centers, along with learning and playing with his friends.

Child Care Network had been approved to operate a second site at Girls Inc.; however, the location was not needed at this time, Langford said.

“If we had met or exceeded enrollment, we would have needed the capacity and services that were to be offered there,” she said.

Some locations that already were offering preschool, including Crothersville Elementary School and Zion Lutheran School, were able to expand their capacity because of On My Way Pre-K grant money provided by the state.

Approved sites are:

Brownstown, Brownstown Christian Church and Gods Lil Blessings

Crothersville, Crothersville Elementary School and Miss Crystal’s

Medora, Medora Elementary School

Seymour: Above and Beyond Child Care, Margaret R. Brown Elementary School, Girls Inc., Head Start, Laugh and Learn Daycare, Lord’s Lambs Preschool, Terri’s Playhouse and Zion Lutheran School.

Class size and structure vary depending on the site, Langford said. Faith-based programs incorporate Bible lessons and religious teachings, while programs that are housed in public schools or child care facilities may offer different lessons.

‘Solid foundation’

All sites focus on getting students prepared to enter kindergarten, by teaching academic, social and fine motor skills.Families get to choose which On My Way Pre-K program works best for their child.Langford said in just a couple of months, students already are showing great progress.

“Every time I visit a classroom, you see the magic that happens while they are learning,” she said. “The children are excited to be there, and they are like little sponges. All good things start with a great foundation, and these programs are providing that for our preschoolers.”

The impact of On My Way Pre-K is greater than most people realize, she added.

“It allows every child to grow to their fullest potential,” she said. “By starting kindergarten ready, with the solid foundation preschool provides, students are more likely to be successful throughout school, leading to better opportunities for a higher quality of life.”

Langford said that, since the program is new and Jackson County is one of just five pilot counties offering On My Way Pre-K, the rollout has gone as planned.

Other counties participating are Marion, Allen, Lake and Vanderburgh. Those counties are larger and geographically different from Jackson County, which was the only rural county selected to participate in the pilot program. In those counties, there are more students who qualify and more providers.

“I believe we have learned a lot through this pilot year,” Langford said. “As a county and a state, we are already looking for ways to improve the process for the next year.”

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“Every time I visit a classroom, you see the magic that happens while they are learning. The children are excited to be there, and they are like little sponges. All good things start with a great foundation, and these programs are providing that for our preschoolers.”

Natasha Langford, On My Way Pre-K manager