High Quality Preschool – Outside School Walls

By Karen Nemeth, Ed.M.

My last blog, “Meeting the Early Learning Needs of ALL Children  – Not Just the Ones Who Show Up”, generated some important questions from readers, and I promised some answers.  How can states and districts accomplish the goal of providing high quality preschool education to all, when some simply will not or can not participate in a full time, out of home program?  Does high quality early childhood education have to be an all or nothing question?  What happens when the children who don’t enroll in preschool programs are the ones who need support the most – such as children from struggling families or new immigrant families?  Here are some possibilities to get the discussion started.

Public libraries:  Marcela Summerville, of www.spanishworkshopforchildren.com, works with families who are reluctant to register their children for preschool.  She suggests that public libraries could step up their efforts to provide stronger programs for young learners to help them prepare for kindergarten.  I would add that a true collaboration between the library and the school district would enable both resources to help each other, match curriculum and share professional development.  Once families become comfortable with a library based program, they might be more willing to try the full time program at school.

Enhanced outreach:  When I ask preschool programs what they’re doing to attract families who speak other languages, the often tell me they translate some of their materials into Spanish – and maybe one other language.  In the article, New Resource Provides Data On Young Children Of Immigrants , CLASP suggests that “states can increase action to ensure that immigrant families with young children are informed of and have access to high-quality early education”.  The problem is some parents are not fully literate even in their home language.  Judie Haynes, of www.everythingesl.net, says programs need to think of ways to connect with families that don’t depend on print media.  I’ve known programs that had great success by sending pairs of bilingual staff members – teachers or social workers – to knock on doors in the neighborhood.  The Harlem Children’s Zone is one example of this type of program.

Public-private partnerships:  The broader the net, the greater the catch.  Ideally, every organization that works with families in a given area should be prepared to connect young children with the best possible early learning experiences that will meet the needs of the family.  Pre-K Now offers an impressive menu of possibilities here http://www.preknow.org/community/partnerships.cfm .

Home visiting programs:  You know, when my budget gets tight, I don’t stop buying food – I just try to get more for my money.  Funny how that logic seems to be missing from budget discussions in many states right now.   We know that investing in early childhood education is a sound long economic plan.  If states can’t afford the most ambitious plan, could they please consider that they can still reach thousands and thousands of high-needs youngsters through less expensive home visiting programs designed to help parents excel as their child’s first teacher?  The Chicago Tribune carried a nice story about one such program.  Check your state listings for Children’s Trust organizations and Early Head Start programs that provide home visiting services.  Are they collaborating with publicly funded preschool in your area?

As I’ve said before, there are ways to address the issue of gaps in early childhood education services.  We need to work harder to assess those gaps – as Lisa Guernsey at New America Foundation suggests.  Then we need to get serious about our united commitment to reach out to all children – especially the ones who need us most.

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