First Class Pre-K program continues to grow

Posted 11/2/17

By NICOLE SMITH

Daily Mountain Eagle

PARRISH — The state of Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program was recognized Monday at Parrish Elementary School, which has one of the most recently added …

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First Class Pre-K program continues to grow

Posted

By NICOLE SMITH

Daily Mountain Eagle

PARRISH — The state of Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program was recognized Monday at Parrish Elementary School, which has one of the most recently added Pre-K classrooms in Walker County.

Representatives from the Alabama School Readiness Alliance (ASRA), VOICES for Alabama’s Children (nonprofit education groups) and the Walker Area Community Foundation attended a press conference at Parrish Elementary Monday to speak about the state’s First Class Pre-K program and its positive impact in Walker County.

First Class Pre-K is a voluntary program that serves to start educating 4-year-olds before they enter kindergarten.

Executive Director of ASRA Allison Muhlendorf said their organization advocates for additional funding to create more First Class Pre-K classrooms in the state, and she provided some encouraging statistics for Walker County.

“When you look at Walker County compared to other counties, the rate of [Pre-K] expansion here over the last two years has been phenomenal,” Muhlendorf said. “You have gone from just 2 percent of 4-year-olds enrolled in First Class Pre-K in Walker County just two years ago to 23 percent of 4-year-olds. Today there are 10 First Class Pre-K classrooms all across Walker County, and that includes one at the Arc of Walker County.”

Earlier this year, $600,000 was awarded to the Walker County Board of Education to create four additional First Class Pre-K classrooms in the county, which were realized at Curry Elementary, Lupton Jr. High, Parrish Elementary and Valley Jr. High. The new classrooms were made possible through the state’s FY 2018 Education Trust Fund Budget, along with funding from Alabama’s Preschool Development Grant.

In May, Sharon Harrison, the director of Head Start for the Walker County Board of Education, told the Daily Mountain Eagle that Walker County Schools already had Pre-K classrooms in place prior to the additional four classrooms added at the beginning of this school year. Two Pre-K/Head Start blended classrooms were already in place — one at Oakman and one at Sumiton — along with Pre-K classrooms at Cordova, Sumiton and Carbon Hill Elementary schools.

“I think this is the avenue through which ACT scores improve, remediation drops at the post-secondary level and things change for the better long-term,” Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason Adkins said. “Those kids that are at that very entry level of educational experiences are coming into a better experience, and I think it’s going to make a difference not only in education but the quality of life in Walker County.”

Parrish Mayor Heather Hall said nearly 40 Parrish students signed up to be enrolled in the school’s new Pre-K classroom, but the classroom was only designed for a maximum 18 students. She said she hopes another First Class Pre-K program will be added at the school next year.

“This program is so important, not just for the town of Parrish,” Hall said. “I’m thankful to everyone who made this a possibility.”

Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, presented Parrish Elementary Principal Thomas Kyzer with some funding for the school on Monday, and commended Kyzer and area leaders for their support of First Class Pre-K.

“As we think about what Alabama does long-term, we’ve got a lot of challenges. We’ve got a lot of issues,” Reed said. “The statistics are there — without question — that we’re the best of the best [in Pre-K education]. ... I will continue to be an advocate. It will be my privilege to lead my members in continuing to understand more of the significance and importance of education at the Pre-K level.”

Walker Area Community Foundation President Paul Kennedy, who is on a task force to support First Class Pre-K, said the program is not only going to further educate Alabama’s children, but change the culture of our county in the years to come.

“If we had the best educational system that we could possibly have, some of these other problems that we’re symptom treating could go away,” Kennedy said. “The poverty, the hunger, the poor lifestyles. We really believe that if you start well, you’ll end well, so that’s why we’re involved.”

Before taking everyone on a tour of Parrish’s Pre-K classroom, Dr. Tracye Strichik, director of the Office of School Readiness with Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, described the model of a First Class Pre-K classroom.

“One of the things you’re going to see is children talking to each other. They’re going to be engaged in very meaningful activities,” Strichik said. “We think the best Pre-K classroom is one where the children are always learning, the teacher is learning, the families are learning, the administrators are learning and we are learning.”

After a ribbon cutting outside the Pre-K classroom at Parrish, Reed and others met the students and formed bonds through interactive play. While observing, Kyzer said he is proud to see the impact Pre-K is having at Parrish Elementary.

“We’re very excited. We have awesome teachers, and this program is not only going to help us have more students but also prepare those students for kindergarten,” Kyzer said.

According to a press release from the ASRA, 28 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in Alabama First Class Pre-K, and there are 938 classrooms located across Alabama. The nonprofit says state funding for the program is at $77.5 million, and they estimate $144 million is needed for every child in Alabama to have an opportunity to be voluntarily enrolled by their parents in First Class Pre-K.

Reed said continuing the forward momentum of the program will be crucial in the coming years. In the past seven years, he said Walker County’s unemployment rate has dropped from 12 percent to under 4 percent, and to keep the economy strong, high quality education will be key.

“Those 4-year-olds are at some point going to be the 34-year-olds that drive the economic engine of where we’re going to be,” Reed said. “We’re going to need every single kid to be involved and engaged in learning and understanding, preparing themselves, and having the skill to drive our economy to the next level if we’re going to be able to accomplish what we want to.”