Mary Ladd, Public Information Coordinator, Ponca City Public Schools
The new Ponca City Public Schools’ prekindergarten center is providing important skills to enable students to achieve long-term academic success. Early childhood education and school readiness is essential to prepare children to succeed in an increasingly competitive global society.
Located at 1615 North 7th Street, the four-year-old students are all smiles and eager to tell you how much they love school. The teachers at the center will tell you they love all the prekindergarten teachers being in the same building because it allows them to collaborate.
Barbara Davis is the principal at the new pre-k center. She said, “I am enjoying the younger children; they are eager to learn and want to give hugs all day. When I compare them to the 8th graders, I realize they are similar in that they both want to learn, they both appreciate a smile and kind word, and both need to know someone cares about them.”
“We have 14 classes with a total enrollment of 223 students, reported Davis. “I expect that number to rise because we still have new students enrolling weekly. We average15 students per class with one teacher and teacher assistant in every class, which is two adults for every 15 students.”
Safety is a priority at the center. Teachers are present and the door is opened at 7:30 a.m. Davis explains, “We have a crossing guard each morning from 7:20 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. to help parents and students cross the street. There is a lot of traffic in the mornings with the high school also on 7th street. We don’t have a crossing guard in the afternoon because we dismiss at 2:20 and 2:30. We have two dismissal times to help with the parking situation. We also dismiss from four different exits around the building to help with the parking. The parent or designated pick-up person must come in and sign the children out each day as a safety precaution.”
“There were several reasons we decided to open the pre-k center, stated Superintendent Dr. David Pennington. “We were concerned about academic quality of our four-year-old programs, and we wanted to provide real stability and standardization across the district. We also knew there were things four year olds needed like age-appropriate playground equipment and toys, etc. We couldn’t afford to provide these materials on a district-wide basis, but we could customize the experience for them and create a vibrant program at the new center.”
“Another reason was to free up space in our buildings, explained Pennington. “Someday I hope we can go back to enforcing class size limits and providing more money to schools. When and if that happens, we would not have had room in our buildings. We needed to create classroom space to allow us to hire teachers to get our class sizes down when/if the money comes back. Moving all pre-k classes to Washington creates space for us to do that at the elementary sites. If the district wins this ad valorem law suit we are in, we will have some money for ten to twelve years to allow us to do this. We do not want to place portable buildings at our sites again. Since we are finished using the building for major renovations, we wanted to use Washington as a school again. It is well built and well maintained and we wanted to put it back into use rather than moth ball or sell it.”
Beverly Barger is a 40+ year veteran kindergarten teacher for the district. When asked if she could see a significant difference in the kids coming into kindergarten who had prekindergarten and the ones who didn’t. She reported, “Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I did not see much of a difference at all because kindergarten was basically the same as prekindergarten. However, in the early 1990s, the curriculum changed to more academic-based and computers were brought into the classrooms. Students coming in with no prekindergarten were suddenly behind and were struggling all year to catch up. By the late 1990s, they were lost. There was no time to differentiate for kids in the 90’s. I found myself working harder than ever trying to make sure every student met the academic standards required. It became evident that we could not achieve all of the requirements in a half-day program, so the district moved from half-day to all-day prekindergarten and kindergarten.”
In the era of test-based accountability, Kindergarten has truly changed emphasizing academics rather than socialization and structured play. Research shows that students who enter kindergarten with no preschool are significantly behind. In today’s pre-k classroom, children are being exposed to skills that they would have typically learned in the traditional model of kindergarten, such as learning how to use scissors or write. Preschoolers are even learning how to write their alphabet and how to read.
By putting their children in preschools, parents are helping their children’s academic future; it has been reported that “children who attend quality preschools score higher on kindergarten readiness screening tests” and “school performance continues to remain higher for those students who attended preschool” (Plevyak, 2002, 25). School is the way to success in our economy; therefore, by starting academics earlier, children are getting ahead.
The Center for American Progress reported the United States is far behind other countries on pre-K in enrollment, investment and quality ranking 26th in the world for the percentage of four-year-olds enrolled in early education programs. Many countries – including Japan, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and France enroll nearly 100 percent of their four-year-olds in preschool. If the US is to train a world-class workforce, we have to catch up to the rest of the world on Prekindergarten and give students every opportunity to be successful.