Goshen offers pre-kindergarten program

Published 8:08 pm Tuesday, July 29, 2014

For the first time, Goshen Elementary School will offer a pre-kindergarten class this fall.

“First and foremost, as educators we realize the importance of 4-year-olds having early learning,” said Principal Wanda Corley. “We’re just very excited about having the unit.”

The addition was made possible by a $125,000 grant from the Office of School Readiness, which is part of the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs and overseen by Gov. Robert Bentley.

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Goshen was one of 100 new grants offered through Alabama’s First Class Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program.

“The most important part of a child’s education is a good, solid foundation, and our First Class voluntary pre-k program provides that,” Bentley said.  “All children, regardless of where they live, deserve the opportunity to excel.  A high-quality, voluntary pre-k program improves their chances of success in K-12 school.  This is a wise investment that will benefit children and families throughout Alabama.”

Grants were awarded based on several criteria including local needs, local demand and high quality standards at the new and expanding pre-k sites.

“Demand for these grants far exceeded our supply, and that’s a testament to the need for expanding access to this program,” Bentley said.  “I want to give more families the option of enrolling their children in voluntary pre-k, and I will continue my efforts to expand access to First Class even more.”

Pike County Schools applied for a grant for each of its elementary schools. Goshen was the only one to receive it. Corley said the pre-k class would be the only of its kind in the town, which is why she thinks the school was awarded the funds.

Under Alabama’s First Class, schools are awarded $125,000 for the first year to cover start-up costs. The money covered salaries for the instructor and assistant. It also supplied equipment for centers and for the playground.

If all goes well, Goshen will receive a grant next year, too. “And if you get two good years, you get a three-year grant,” said Corley. “And we’re going to do everything right. We want the program for all five years.”

During the application process, Corley learned a lot about the positive effects of early education. “Like 95 percent or better of those who attend pre-k benchmarked by third grade,” she said.

The first year will have only one class of 18 students. “We actually had 53 parents sign up for K-4,” said Corley.

Because the incoming first-grade class is smaller than previous years, there will be three classes instead of the usual four. Corley said they were fortunate to have the extra classroom, which will be used for the preschool program.

She would like to see the program grow and accommodate the demand. “We would love to, but that’s going to require another building and more funding,” she said.

Superintendent of Pike County Schools Dr. Mark Bazelle said the slots were filled by a lottery. Most schools do not have a pre-k program. He hoped to eventually have one at every elementary school in the district. To that end, the schools will continue to apply for the grants and seek funding. “We hope as the state allocates additional funding, we will be able to start programs at Banks and Pike elementary schools.”

Jeana Ross, the Governor’s Commissioner of Children’s Affairs, said the demand for expansion grants has been strong in communities throughout the state, and efforts will continue for additional expansion in the future.

“This is the next step in a long-term process of giving more families the opportunity to send their children to voluntary pre-kindergarten,” Ross said.  “If parents want to send their children to pre-k, we want them to have that option.  We want more children to benefit from the high quality standards that are the basis of First Class.  We will work with First Class sites across the state to make sure more children are receiving a quality foundation that will prepare them for success in K-12 school and beyond.”