Gulfport four-year-olds are getting a jump start on their education, by attending one of the state's only free, pre-K four classes.
Project Director Cynthia Minton Walker says, "PreK4Ward is now in its fourth school year, where we are trying to put preschools for four year olds, free to parents, in each of the public schools. If funding would allow us to do it, we would have them at every school across the coast. Unfortunately, it's not there yet."
But thanks to private donors and grants, these 20 students are doing remarkable things in the classroom, preparing for not only kindergarten, but also the demanding core curriculum that will soon be implemented across Mississippi.
Walker says that core curriculum begins next year, and "Things that used to be taught in kindergarten are now needing to be acquired before they enter kindergarten because we're seeing some second grade skills come down to kindergarten in the core curriculum. Other countries are already doing what we are about to start in this country."
Part of preparing for the tough curriculum includes students taking turns leading the class. They become teachers for a day, helping their peers tally observations, read words, or identify shapes and colors.
"They need to be able to read once they become kindergarten students. They need to, as the standard says, 'compose and decompose two-digit numbers in kindergarten,'" explains Walker. "If there's not a good skills base to launch into in kindergarten, we're going to have a major problem of students who are failing early."
And that's why advocates are pushing for more early education opportunities in Mississippi.
Walker says, "Right now in this state, one out of 14 kindergartners are not able to move successfully to first grade. And in kindergarten and first grade alone over the last ten years, Mississippi is on average spending about $40 million in retention costs. Retention costs. We're already paying in my opinion for preschool, we're just not paying for it the best way."
The Gulfport PreK4Ward class meets at Central Elementary on Pass Road. To be eligible for one of the 20 slots, students must be four years old and live within Gulfport city limits.
This year, the PreK4Ward program is also being offered in Hancock County, with hopes of expanding to Jackson County next year.
To learn more about the initiative, or how you can donate to its cause, visit http://www.prek4ward.org/Mississippi_Free_Preschool.html.
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