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August 14, 2014

Making Preschool Possible

Posted: Thursday, August 14, 2014 12:21 pm
Tony Huffman
Effingham Daily News

A quarter of children starting kindergarten in Effingham have no preschool experience. Studies say this lack of prior school experience is a disadvantage, but a group of community members intend to change that.

Debbie Owen, who retired as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at Unit 40, said a large number of children don’t enter preschool because of family financial constraints. While there is help for those who qualify for CEFS Head Start program, there are many families who apply but make just enough to not qualify for state assistance. Owen said Effingham Preschool For All can help.

“The need is there,” she said. “Now we are asking ourselves, ‘How can we help?”

Owen said a family of four making approximately $31,006, which is 30 percent more than the poverty level, fall in that limbo area that would likely qualify a child for preschool cost coverage through the Preschool For All program.

“I think people are really trying, and they don’t have their hand out, but I think it is difficult for them to pay for everything,” said Owen.

Because of confidentiality of applications to local preschools, Owen encourages those interested to apply to CEFS Head Start. The agency will in turn send those who don’t qualify for Head Start information about the Preschool For All program.

“Parents who are interested in this program have to fill out an application and be denied by Head Start,” said Owen. “If a parent is denied, and they are close to that financial guideline for income, they should call us too.”

Last year, 49 students who didn’t attend preschool started kindergarten in Effingham. After the state cut funding for preschool and no longer made it a mandate for children entering kindergarten, the effects on young people are starting to surface, according to Owen.

“Kindergarten teachers are telling us they can tell a difference between the kids who have had preschool and the ones who haven’t,” she said.

With two corporate donations totaling $23,000, the plan for the pilot program is to serve 20 children, said Owen. She added that approximately $1,000 should pay for a student’s preschool for one year. That figure isn’t concrete because of the varying costs of area preschools.

Owen said the program has generated a good deal of local interest.

“If we get more donations, we will put more students through preschool,” said Owen.

In addition to paying for preschool costs, Effingham Preschool For All is working to provide a volunteer to ride the Effingham County Public Transportation System with children, which is available for parents who cannot provide transportation. The ride will cost $1 each way.

“It was difficult when the state cut back on preschool programs,” said Owen. “Maybe it’s because I was in education, or because I’m a mother, but I feel this is important. This is a heart-felt program.”

An advisory board has been established for the program that includes Janette Bledsoe, Dr. Colleen Bingham, Jennifer Fox, Connie Jerden, Carla Kaufman, Angie Kronewitter, Debbie Owen, Dennis Shiley and Chris Simcox.

Owen said the volunteers, none of whom she pointed out are being paid for the facilitation of the program, are going to continue until every child has a chance to attend preschool.

“We are trying to help people help their children,” she said.

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