At left, a Harrison County preschool student in the Jump Start program displays a tree he created out of blocks. At right, another preschool student reaches for a marker to color.

     Think about children in a preschool classroom. It may seem like the kids are only playing with blocks, completing artwork, running around with friends or listening to stories. During this time, though, these activities and more help preschool students develop academic, social and emotional skills, so they can be successful in kindergarten and beyond.

     Giving children high-quality educational experiences in their early years is vital. According to “Early Care and Education: The Economic Case,” the majority of brain growth occurs in the first five years of life, and that key time period cannot be replaced. Yet ironically, the least amount of public resources is applied to children during that time, so preschool opportunities are critical.

    Children who participate in preschool are more likely to start kindergarten at the same level as their peers and have appropriate motor skills, social adaptation abilities and basic knowledge. Down the road, the children will be less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, raise babies while teenagers, or be incarcerated.

     The Harrison County Community Foundation (HCCF) has been funding Jump Start, a five-year pilot program that provides free, full-day preschool for income-eligible children in Harrison County, to enable the children to succeed in kindergarten and life. The children receiving free preschool make substantial progress throughout the school year.

     Recently, the Applied Research and Education Center (AREC) at IU Southeast released the 2018 Mid-Year Data Summary for the preschool program, using the ISTAR-KR (state-approved Kindergarten Readiness) assessment results at the beginning and middle of the school year to compile the data.

     The AREC found some of the preschool students began the school year with development levels equivalent of less than a 25-month-old, so they were two years or more behind their peers. The students’ reading and language development levels on the ISTAR-KR assessment increased by an average of 13.6 months from the beginning to the middle of the year, and their math and quantitative reasoning development levels went up by an average of one year.

     To put this in perspective, after just half a year of preschool, the preschool students who had the lowest development levels at the beginning of the year – less than a 25-month-old – were only about a year and a half behind the rest of their peers.

     With continued work, the children can be almost completely on par with the other students and ready for kindergarten. The AREC’s 2016-2017 Year-End Report showed that the preschool students’ math and quantitative reasoning levels were almost equal to their age in months (the mean age of the students at the end of the year was 63 months), and their reading and language development levels even slightly surpassed their age.

    Students who complete preschool are also less likely to need special education or remediation services afterward, and they begin to display strong interpersonal skills and take responsibility for their actions.

     Additional four-year-olds will be able to receive free preschool as a result of On My Way Pre-K (OMWPK), which is funded by Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration. OMWPK will fund free preschool for the 2018-19 school year, for children who will be four years old by Aug. 1, live in households at or below 127 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), and whose parents/guardians are working or attending school.

    Children’s families must apply online at onmywayprek.org or complete a paper application. Once submitted, River Valley Resources will contact the family to review information and determine eligibility. If the family is not eligible for OMWPK, eligibility for Jump Start funding will be considered.

     To learn about how your child can get free, high-quality preschool, visit hccfindiana.org/preschool/.

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