Since choosing to relinquish the Head Start grant last summer, MISD’s pre-kindergarten enrollment increased to 769. This meant that there were 160 more students enrolled in pre-K in February than the same month the previous school year.
Enrollment hovers close to the maximum of 792 pre-K students. Della Frye, director of early childhood education for MISD, considers that a good thing. The district broke with Head Start because of the program’s enrollment caps.
“For us to be that close to being completely maxed out and that far over the number of kids we served the year before, I just thought that was exceptional for us,” Frye said. “It was so exciting.”
The Head Start grant money now goes to Community Development Institute instead, with MISD serving 4-year-olds and CDI serving 3-year-olds, according to previous Reporter-Telegram reports.
The increase meant that the cap for pre-K classes changed from 18 children to the more standard district size of 22, which Frye said was the biggest change for teachers and teaching assistants.
Besides greater numbers, students are also scoring well. According to a memo from Frye, “In October 2015, only 26 percent of PreK students met the benchmark for recognizing letters and by May 82 percent met the benchmark. In October, only 8 percent of PreK students met the counting benchmark and by the end of the year 74 percent met the benchmark.”
The second year since breaking with Head Start will have teachers with more tools in their belts. The Texas Education Agency granted MISD its High Quality Pre-Kindergarten Grant, an amount totaling about $517,000.
The grant should have been used for this past school year as well as 2016-17, but the timing of state lawmakers passing legislation concerning the grants delayed MISD receiving the funds.
“It’s to improve quality, so it’ll be used to pay for training for teachers, material for classrooms, even family engagement activities,” Frye said. “It’ll help us kick it up that next notch.”
The funding will be used in a two-pronged approach. The first will be training for instructors on how to help children with socio-emotional needs. Pre-kindergarten usually is the first time a child is around 21 other children all day and that can lead to emotional troubles that can interfere with learning abilities, Frye said.
“We teach them what to do if they have a problem, like if someone has a crayon they want, and how to use their words to get it instead of maybe hitting or reacting in other ways,” Frye said. “We teach all of those socio-emotional things that they’re going to need to learn and work independently in kindergarten and first grade.”
The second approach will be on the academic side. Students learn letters, sounds of letters, counting and patterns in pre-K, and nine of the 36 pre-K classrooms are bilingual. Some students speak a language other than English and Spanish, Frye said.
“The nice thing about dealing with other languages is that, all 4-year-olds are learning language, even the ones whose parents speak English — they’re learning vocabulary and sentence structure,” she said. “So in pre-K, a lot of the same things you’re doing with English-speaking children, you’re doing with non-English speaking as well.”
Subsequent amounts of funding are not yet known, but it’s unlikely to be in the $500,000 range. Typical amounts from TEA are about $250,000, Frye said.
“We’re going to use (the funds) as best we can by training our teachers and giving them skills they need to use year after year after year,” Frye said.
Enrollment for pre-K started April 4. Since then, 600 applicants have been accepted, and Frye expects enrollment to approach the 792 cap with additional applications as it gets closer to the start of school. Pre-K students must be 4 years old by Sept. 1 according to state law, Frye said.
“We hope our pre-Ks are top of the pack in kindergarten,” Frye said. “We hope they’re the leaders in that group.”
Read more: MISD early childhood sees large enrollment, awarded state grant – MRT.com: Education
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