Preschool programs give students an advantage

“Kids who attend public preschool programs are better prepared for kindergarten than kids who don’t.” — Claudio Sanchez

State and national data has demonstrated that children who attend high-quality public preschool programs enter kindergarten at an advantage compared to those that do not. This data is also found in Marshalltown. The Marshalltown Community School District fall kindergarten state reading FAST assessment results compared with the percentage of kindergarten students who attend preschool are strongly connected. The schools with about 80 percent of kindergarten students attending preschool also had among the highest reading results whereas the schools with only 60-65 percent of kindergarten students attending preschool had lower results.  

So what does this data mean for Marshalltown? This question has been addressed with many groups in past years and was a focus this fall. The goals identified were: All incoming MCSD kindergarten students have the opportunity to participate in a public or private Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program (SWVPP) or other local preschool (PS).

Eighty percent of preschool students will be ready for kindergarten based on high quality instruction measured by Individual Growth & Development Indicators (IGDIs) assessment.

The emphasis on these two goals have long-term impacts in many areas including family connectedness to school, regular attendance, improved behavior, higher student achievement outcomes and increased opportunities to learn English. The MCSD has determined action steps to help reach the goals.

In order to reach the first goal of increased preschool participation, the district continues to expand partnerships with local providers like Bobcat Academy, St. Francis Catholic School and MICA Head Start. The hope is to eventually partner with the YMCA, Elim Lutheran Church Preschool and Bright Beginnings, if possible. Additionally, information is being shared in a systematic fashion with local medical providers, churches, and organizations that work with children and families to promote the importance of preschool. The district will continue to offer free busing to and from preschool as well as free breakfast and/or lunch as additional means to remove barriers to access.

The second goal of 80 percent of students being academically ready for kindergarten is a bit more challenging, but there are plans in place for how to meet it. The first, and biggest, change will be to offer preschool at the six public schools for a half-day (morning or afternoon) for five days per week. This increases our student contact from the current half-day program that meets four days per week. Extra hours with preschoolers allow for greater access to curricula designed to support literacy, numeracy, science, social studies, social-emotional skills and English language development. These areas of learning occur through both instruction and play.

The goal for MCSD is to ensure that all students have equitable opportunities to benefit from the district mission statement: “We develop learners who have the knowledge, skills, and positive mindset to successfully pursue a meaningful future through personalized learning experiences.”  

Personalizing the early childhood learning experiences and options can and should begin in preschool and the goals and the action steps will ensure that our youngest Bobcats can do just that.

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Dr. Lisa Stevenson is Director of Instruction with the Marshalltown Community School District.