County attempts to support pre-k programs despite financial woes

The Advocate

County attempts to support pre-k programs despite financial woes

By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf Advocate Staff Writer


Photo by Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

Sticky situation
Samantha Mosley, 4, left, and Makayla Randall, 3, begin their paper mâché projects at the Celebree Learning Center in Eldersburg Tuesday, July 16. Pre-k programs like the one the girls are enrolled in at Celebree have seen a steep decline in funding the past two years.

Samantha Mosley, 4, and Makayla Randall, 3, unfurl a slick slip of newspaper coated in glue and then re-curl it around a balloon with meticulous effort.

The girls are making a papier-mâché project in the “kindergarten readiness” classroom at the Eldersburg-based Celebree Learning Center. They will enter kindergarten next year. Though papier-mâché allows the group to dabble in arts and crafts, the overarching classroom lesson is social immersion, Emily Carl, the center’s director, said.

“In any kind of program, they’re going to learn ABCs and 1-2-3s, but are they going to learn to communicate and resolve conflicts with each other?” she said.

Statistics echo the social and intellectual benefits of pre-k education, what Carl said she has observed first-hand, though historically preschool programs have been the first initiatives parceled to the financial chopping block.

Carl, a former kindergarten teacher with the Baltimore County Public School system, said she noticed a marked difference in the social skills of those children who had received education prior to entering school.

“The kids who weren’t used to classroom setting took a little bit longer, three quarters way through the year before they started interacting in a high level way,” she said.

The National Institute of Early Education Research released a study March 2013 backing the advantages of pre-k education. Researchers had tracked children at a New Jersey preschool from pre-k age to fifth grade and revealed participants who had preschool experience were roughly three quarters of a grade level ahead of their peers.

Another report by the National Institute of Early Education Research estimated that in 2012, only 39 percent of Maryland’s 3 and 4-year-olds were enrolled in a state pre-k program, primarily due to lack of overall funding, the report indicates.

The institute’s report also showed nationally the budget for preschool programs dropped by $500 million during the 2011-12 school year.

“It’s absolutely tragic,” Carl said, referring to the cuts in funding. “So much goes into creating an environment that’s engaging. Even though they’re not expensive supplies … you need a lot of little manipulatives.”

Manipulatives are objects used to physically illustrate concepts, often in mathematics. Common manipulative are blocks and fake coins.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People released a 69-page recommendation late 2012 calling on policy makers at the national, state and local levels to restructure school systems to be more cost effective and to ensure equal opportunities for disadvantaged children, the sector typically alienated from state-funded and privately-owned pre-k programs.

NAACP suggested parents and stakeholders should investigate the schools district budgets, and what endeavors the funding supports.

Carroll County Public Schools offered 16 pre-k programs in elementary schools during the 2012-13 school year, according to Margaret Pfaff, director of curriculum and instructional resources with CCPS. The county has offered preschool programs for at least 10 years, she said.

CCPS has also “shifted resources” to up the number of county schools offering preschool to 18 for the 2013-14 year, Pfaff said. There are 24 elementary schools in the county, according to the CCPS website.

“Essentially we’re very committed to providing a pre-k education in our schools,” she said.

Pfaff said that there have been talks at the state level of instituting mandatory pre-k, a financial commitment she said most schools would have difficulty meeting.

“Schools typically aren’t built for that,” she said. “Space is a limiting factor a lot of times.”

Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said there have been no talks of mandatory pre-k education, but that preschool education is a statewide priority.

The state assists a federal program, Head Start, which funds schools catering to low-income families across the country. During the 2011-12 school year, Maryland provided a supplemental $1.8 million to after-school programs for Head Start students, according to National Institute of Early Education Research.

“Kids at the pre-k age are learning sponges, they’re ready for anything, and we’re providing them with good academic development,” Reinhard said.

In an attempt to improve pre-k and kindergarten instruction, Reinhard said, the department created the Maryland Model for School Readiness in 2001, an assessment administered during the first quarter of a child’s kindergarten career by their teachers. The MMSR is not a “pencil-and-paper” test, but rather an observation whether the child meets developmental benchmarks: social, linguistic and communication skills, knowledge of mathematics, science and the arts, and physical prowess. Schools must submit these results to the State Department of Education by Dec. 1 every year.

The assessment accounts for and notes individual participation in pre-k education programs, though this data is not included in the annual report the department compiles. The annual report is used to tweak classroom curricula and is presented to the General Assembly.

The 2012-13 MSSR annual report indicates that out of the 1,744 kindergarten students enrolled in Carroll County Public Schools during that school year, 96 percent were “school-ready,” based on the state’s criteria.

Carl suggested enrolling children in any type of pre-k program is beneficial, and to those families struggling financially, she said, the branches of the Carroll County Public Library offer free programs comparable to the preschool experience.

“That way they still have that social time,” she said.

Copyright © 2013, Carroll County Times