Six new pre-K classrooms will open this fall to serve vulnerable children in New Hanover County.
The classrooms are part of a county-wide initiative to curb community violence through proactive efforts. The six classrooms will serve 90 children throughout the county, prioritizing three- and four-year-old children living below 75% of the county’s median income level.
“We believe this early investment in our children will set them on a successful path to ensure life-long resiliency,” said Jennifer Rigby, chief strategy officer for New Hanover County.
Decades of research show the positive impact of high-quality pre-kindergarten education, according to Public Schools First NC.
Children in pre-k programs make significant gains in language and literacy and set them up for success later in their education. Additionally, they gain confidence by learning school daily routines and expectations, along with socializing with other children, learning decision-making skills and other important areas of growth.
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Rigby said there is also a strong correlation between academic achievement and a student’s chances of committing a crime or going to prison. Start learning how to learn early in life and you have a much better chance of success later in life.
Pre-K plays a critical moment in a child’s growth and development, she added.
That’s why the county adopted a new strategic objective to “promote early learning that ensures life-long resiliency” in 2018, Rigby said.
The county has invested in six pre-K classrooms for the last five years, and Rigby said there has been measurable success in getting students ready for kindergarten.
The StarNews contacted Shannon Smiles, director of early childhood education for New Hanover County Schools, but she was out of the office and unavailable to comment at the time of publication.
The first cohort of students in the county-funded pre-K program will begin third grade in the fall, which will allow the county and school districts to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.
When the pre-K classrooms opened, their goal was to reach a 75% kindergarten readiness across the county and have 90% of third-graders reading at grade level, Rigby said.
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“Third-grade reading scores are so important because this is the point at which a child transitions from learning how to read to reading to learn,” she said. “If a child hasn’t learned to read by third grade, there is a higher chance they will fall further behind in school. Therefore, these early investments are critical to a child’s lifelong resiliency.”
The new additions will include one classroom at Mary Washington Howe Pre-K Center, one at Wrightsboro Elementary, two at Blair Elementary and two at Murrayville Elementary. The county will spend $1.5 million to open the new classrooms.
Those will operate in addition to six already-existing pre-K classrooms that serve 90 students: three at College Road Early Childcare Center and three at the Career Readiness Academy at Mosley.
Students will be admitted into the program based on several criteria, including household income and homelessness, families of military personnel, educational needs, developmental disabilities, chronic health conditions and limited English proficiency.
This is just one aspect of the county’s community anti-violence initiative.
Rigby said the county is taking additional steps to improve early childhood education, such as through programs at the public library and the children’s museum.
The school district and the organization Communities in Schools are also partnering through the PaSS program, which provides adult mentors to work with third graders every week who are at risk of not reading at grade level to work on reading and comprehension skills.
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Finally, county officials are developing an incentive pilot program to encourage teachers at hard-to-staff schools. The program would include support for kindergarten through third-grade teachers to get their national board certification, receive the Science of Reading training, and allow participation in the Workforce Housing Gap Rental Assistance program.
This, officials say, will help develop and retain teachers in early education to ensure students are set up for success.
Reporter Sydney Hoover can be reached at 910-343-2339 or [email protected]