Early Childhood Education was approved by the board in February and plans are in place for the program to begin at Perkins County Elementary for the 2011-12 school year.
By Jan Rahn
It’s always exciting to start a new school year, but in a few months when the term begins for 2011-12, the atmosphere at Perkins County Elementary will take on a different aura.
Children as young as three will be able to receive a public school educational experience when the district implements Early Childhood Education this fall.
The new program will benefit families in the county who can more easily afford to send their young ones to public school preschool rather than a private preschool.
Everyone is on board with this new program—school administrators, existing private preschool teachers and entities, grateful parents, and especially elementary teachers who see firsthand the positive differences made by educating children during the ages prior to beginning kindergarten.
According to Perkins County Schools Superintendent Tobin Buchanan, the goal of the new program is to provide every child in the district the opportunity to attend preschool by offering it on a sliding scale basis to families of all income levels.
Buchanan said the philosophy of Perkins County Schools Early Childhood Education is not to replace or compete with private preschool institutions, but rather, to get as many children as possible into some education programs prior to reaching kindergarten age—“whether ours, theirs, or somewhere else.”
Teachers often times see a wide range in skill level between kindergartners who have or have not had some early education.
Buchanan sees the obvious need for more education at lower age levels within the Perkins County district.
His experience of early childhood education in other school systems where he has served has been advantageous in putting together a planning team to bring the program into the Perkins County Schools.
Last August a planning team (made up of Superintendent Buchanan, elementary principal Terry Prante, special education teacher Connie Mahnken, private preschool teacher Kami Krajewski, community member Melissa Sauder and Perkins County Head Start instructor Karrie Keith) reviewed many aspects of the program, including taking a survey of parents in the district.
Buchanan said out of a total of 70 surveys completed, 30 parental responses indicated there would be age-appropriate children in their household who could attend preschool within the designated time frame, and yes, they would consider sending their children if the program was offered at the school.
“The survey results indicate that there are children out there who do not have access to an early childhood experience for one reason or another. For some it is simply a matter of cost,” said Buchanan.
There are approximately 30-35 children in the age range of two to four who could be served within the next three years.
The Early Childhood Education Program was approved by the Perkins County Board of Education during their February meeting.
The program has quickly taken flight and much is already in place for the program to begin, including a designated classroom. Connie Mahnken, elementary special ed teacher, has been hired as the preschool teacher and case manager for children with disabilities who can enter the program. Mahnken has both special education certification and early childhood certification.
The district has hired private preschool educator Kami Krajewski as a para in the new program. Krajewski has an associate degree in early childhood education.
Due to strict state guidelines, paras must also meet criteria to become a part of the school’s new preschool education being offered.
“Everyone’s goal is to get as many kids as possible into this program,” said Buchanan, explaining it is not mandatory, nor is it to replace or put private preschools out of business.
“It’s just another option for parents to look at,” he said.
The program will be offered to families on a sliding pay scale that reflects the school lunch program qualifications.
Frequently Asked Questions—Early Childhood Education
Q: Why is Perkins County Schools implementing an early childhood program when we already have private pre-schools in our community?
A: While our communities do have some private tuition based pre-schools, we have several children who are unable to access these opportunities due to socio-economic limitations.
Q: Is it important for my child to attend and early childhood program?
A: Research would support that children who participate in some form of early childhood education are more successful in later years of schooling.
Q: Where will the early childhood program be located?
A: The Perkins County Early Childhood Program will be located in the Perkins County Elementary School.
Q: What age must my child be to attend the early childhood program?
A: The program will serve children age three years to kindergarten entry age. Children must be three years of age by Aug.1 and must not turn five years of age by Oct. 15 to be eligible for the 2011-12 school year. Beginning with the 2012-13 school year, children must be three before and not turn five by July 31.
Q: What children can attend the early childhood program?
A: Any age eligible children residing in the Perkins County Schools district may apply to attend the early childhood program.
Q: Will certain children be given priority to attend the program?
A: There are criteria that may determine whether or not a child may attend the program over another child. Children who live in families that qualify for free or reduced lunch will have priority over families who pay full lunch price. Children who are four or five years of age and will be age eligible to attend kindergarten the following year will have priority over three-year-olds.
Q: How many days/hours each week would my child attend?
A: The early childhood program will have a morning session and an afternoon session for four days a week (Mon.-Thurs.). Each session is three hours in length. The morning session will run from 8 a.m.-11 a.m. with the afternoon session running from 12:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Q: Do I get to choose which session my child attends?
A: Although it may depend on final enrollment the intention is for three-year-olds to attend in the morning and four-year-olds to attend in the afternoon.
Q: How much does it cost to send my child to the early childhood program?
A: Program tuition is based on a sliding fee scale. Families who qualify for free lunch through the Nutritional Services application process would not have to pay tuition for their age eligible child to attend. A family that qualifies for the reduced lunch rate would be required to pay $50 per month. A family that pays full price for school lunch would pay $100 per month.
Q: Why is Perkins County Schools charging tuition to some families for a school run program?
A: Unlike school-aged children, there are no mandatory attendance laws for three- and four-years-olds. The school-run program is another option for pre-school services that families may choose. Charging comparable tuition to other community pre-school programs also ensures that we are supplementing early childhood offerings in the community and not replacing them.
Q: What regulations must the early childhood program follow?
A: The Perkins County Schools Early Childhood Program will be a Rule 11 program. Nebraska Rule 11 guidelines may be accessed on the Nebraska Department of Education website.
Q: How do I enroll my child in the Perkins County Schools Early Childhood Program?
A: An informational meeting will be held in March of each year. The location and time of this meeting will be advertised on the Perkins County Schools’ website and in the local newspaper. Applications will be available at this meeting. Applications will also be made available at the elementary office once the informational meeting is held.
Q: When will I know if my child has been accepted into the early childhood program?
A: Once applications for the following school year are made available, you will have two weeks to return the completed application and any qualifying materials to the elementary office. Letters indicating acceptance or non-acceptance will be sent out within a week of the application deadline. Children may be placed on a waiting list based upon the date of enrollment.
Q: Will the school district provide transportation to children attending the early childhood program?
A: The school district is required by law to offer free transportation to children in the early childhood program who have a verified disability.