During the summer, there is a group of hard working people preparing for the youngest among us to start school. For much of the summer, some of the Early Childhood Education staff in Poudre School District work to walk families through the application and screening process for their children to help find a place for educational success. Early intervention is an important piece to the overall success of a student with learning challenges as well as socio/economic struggles. The importance of early learning cannot be stressed enough.
What is early childhood education? Seems simple enough to answer. It is the education children receive before they are of kindergarten age. Early childhood education in Poudre School District is comprised of a few existing programs, as well as a designated number of openings for tuition based preschool. These programs are Head Start, Colorado Preschool Program and special education.
The differences among the programs relate to their funding sources. When a child reaches the classroom though, they are all offered the same high quality education. Tuition based preschool is offered for $322.00‐$350.00/month – depending upon the amount of class time. If a child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), there is no cost to the program. Lunch and snacks are purchased by guardians for all programs, with some reduction based upon financial need.
Head Start is a federally funded program that established its roots in 1964 by Sargent Shriver under the leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Shriver founded Head Start by bringing a panel of child experts in to discuss how to combat poverty and create effective child development programs. In 1995 the first grants were given for Head Start. In 1998 the program was expanded to include full-day and full-year funds. According the Office of Head Start, by 2007 the program was amended to its current form with the purpose “to promote the school readiness of low-income children”. (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs/about/history-of-head-start).
The Colorado Preschool Program (CPP) is a state funded initiative that started in 1988 designed to help 4 and 5 year olds in need of language development. The program served 2,000 children beginning in 1988. In 1992, Colorado Senate passed a bill to make CPP a permanent program. “This bill also expanded the target population to not only include children in need of language development, but also children ‘who lack overall learning readiness due to significant family risk factors and children being served by Social Services as neglected or dependent children’.” (https://www.cde.state.co.us/early).
A child with an IEP has been identified under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to qualify for services through special education.
Early Childhood Education offers a wonderful mix of educational tools not only for students but also for families and parents. The program includes home visits, center visit, community events and written material for parents. For students, the benefits seem endless. The program is well rounded by educating children not only on academics but also health, nutrition and being a part of the community. It is a collaborative plan with parents and teachers working closely together to increase student growth and achievement.
Deanna Fuller, an experienced Early Childhood Special Educator and Head Start teacher in Poudre School District, offered a look into a typical day. They begin with welcome and large group time working on letters, numbers and academia. Followed this is breakfast for the morning class and lunch follows for the afternoon group. Next comes bathroom time to brush teeth. Story time follows, then centers and work stations. After working and playing hard, the group shares a snack then has goodbye time. No matter what the activity, everything is treated as a learning opportunity. At lunch and snack, different food groups are discussed and everything is tested with either “a lick, nibble or bite” according to Mrs. Fuller. During show and tell, questions like “what is a question?”, “what is a comment?” teach the children valuable group skills. There are designated times where school phycologists, occupational therapists and speech language clinicians come to work with children in their school environment.
To know early childhood education is to be a part of something bigger than just one person or school. That being said, it is the people who are the heart and soul of the program that make it effective and special. They give life to the ideas and the initiative called Head Start that was discussed so long ago by Sargent Shriver and his colleagues. So what is early childhood education? Just look at the smiles on the faces of the future.
Poudre School District Integrated Services Director: Sarah Belleau 2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521