A Harrison County Jump Start preschool student shows off his work.

When four-year-old Suzy (not her real name) came to one of the Jump Start preschool providers in the late fall, she was not toilet trained and had multiple accidents throughout the day. Also, Suzy was unable to write or even recognize her own name.

As a child headed to kindergarten in less than a year, it was imperative Suzy master these skills.  In a few short months, Suzy made progress in both areas, including the ability to write her name from memory.

Help for Suzy might not have been possible without the Harrison County Community Foundation (HCCF)’s Jump Start preschool program, a free full-day program for income-eligible children in Harrison County. Jump Start, a five-year pilot preschool network, began in fall 2014. Ten public and private preschool providers throughout the county participate in the program.

Readiness for kindergarten has been identified as one of five key indicators for lifelong success. Studies have shown every one dollar investment in preschool education programs will result in a $7 to $18 return. Children entering kindergarten lacking in motor skills, social adaptation abilities and basic knowledge will not only struggle academically, but also often monopolize the educator’s time, thus slowing progress for the entire class.

Kindergarten readiness begins long before preschool. Research demonstrates 85 percent of brain growth occurs in the first five years of life, with the greatest need for stimulation during the first three years. Incredibly, this critical period during human development is when the least amount of public resources is applied.

Often, children of lower income families don’t get the same opportunities for early childhood development as their more privileged peers. These children struggle in school and throughout their lives. Indiana State Wide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP) data demonstrate that Indiana children eligible for free or reduced meals will score an average of 15 points less than their peers.

In recent years, 44 percent of Harrison County students have qualified for free or reduced meals. This 44 percent is at risk for low performance in school, higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, higher rates of teen pregnancy, and greater chance of incarceration.  Every one of these is a societal problem we taxpayers will be funding for a lifetime…for generations.

But progress has been demonstrated with Jump Start. HCCF incorporated an outside review as a part of the program. The Applied Research and Education Center (AREC) at IU Southeast conducted a year-end report of the 2015-2016 school year, using the ISTAR-KR (state approved Kindergarten Readiness) assessment to compile the data. Preschool students were assessed at the beginning and end of the school year.

The AREC found the students’ reading and language scores on the assessment increased an average of 12.6 points from the beginning to the end of the year, and their math and quantitative reasoning scores went up almost 10 points on average. The student’s scores also increased an average of 6.5 points in the social and emotional development part of the assessment.

Jump Start is a large project designed to have major impact. HCCF has committed up to $5 million over five years for funding the program.

Jump Start also incorporates Healthy Families, a hands-on parenting skills and child development program operated by Blue River Services, and assists childcare facilities in achieving Paths to Quality (PTQ) accreditation. PTQ is a multi-level quality rating system recognized by Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration.

Applications for preschool are being accepted for the 2017-18 school year. For more information, contact us at 812-738-6668 or visit hccfindiana.org.

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