BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Biloxi School District's dream of opening an early childhood education program is finally a reality. The district's first pre-k classes started Monday morning. Teachers said there were a few tears, but most of the children showed up excited and eager to learn.
A few youngsters were shy and nervous, others were full of energy and felt right at home.
"To see them coming through the door, it was incredible. Because you see these little happy faces. And the parents come in, they're happy. The children are excited," said teacher Adrielle Higgins.
The four-year-old children were the first to enroll in a free pre-K program at Nichols Elementary School. After the introductions and going over classroom rules, it was time to hit the books.
The Biloxi School District tried for years to seek funding to open pre-k classes. A $495,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation made the program possible. Biloxi school leaders say with more rigorous college and career readiness standards in place, children need to start learning earlier.
"In this class, there's going to be a lot of learning. They're going to come home and surprise their parents with what they learn from us. Everything they're going to need to be successful in kindergarten, I'm doing," said Higgins.
The curriculum will follow the state's early childhood guidelines for four-year-old children, and the lessons will be based on Common Core State Standards. The children will focus on rhyming words and other early literacy skills, understanding numbers, and social interaction.
Fifty-six children are enrolled in the program and there's room for 24-more youngsters.
Thelma Williams came in Monday to register her daughter Malayha.
"I was very excited about getting my daughter into school already, because I signed her up for Head Start, they ran out of spots and I was on the waiting list," said Williams. "It's very important to me, because I want her to get all the learning experience she can."
When asked if she was excited about going to school, Malayha smiled and said, "Yes."
Three classes are now in session, with a fourth set to open when more slots are filled.
"They're going to be very intelligent, very advanced, and we're going to make things happen," said Higgins.
To be eligible for the program, the child must be four-years-old by September 1. Also, the families must live in the Biloxi School District zone and provide their own transportation. Parents can register online through the district's website or get an application at any elementary school in the district.