New data shows free Pre-K program in Harrison County is working - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

New data shows free Pre-K program in Harrison County is working

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - When five year olds entered Kindergarten this year, they were evaluated to see how prepared they were for school. The results from the Mississippi Department of Education's first "Star Early Literacy Assessment" weren't very good.  The numbers suggest a majority of children in our state were not ready to enter Kindergarten.

One program in Harrison and Hancock Counties is trying to change that. The project director for South Mississippi's PreK4ward initiative, Cynthia Minton Walker, shared her reaction to the numbers.

"It is one of those things that I'm not sure everyone has yet heard because it's new data. It's just come out this month," says Walker.  "But the results of that and the longitudinal studies that show its validity should be concerning to all of us."

Cynthia Minton Walker says the recent numbers released from the State Department of Education reinforce the importance of quality early education.  

"It's a clear indicator from that data, in four years when our Kindergartners are in 3rd grade, that over 50% of them will be retained for not being able to read on grade level, which is a new requirement in our state." 

That's what Mississippi's PreK4Ward initiative aims to change.  In fact, just this week the program opened its seventh free class for four year olds at First United Methodist Church in Downtown Gulfport. And the recent early literacy assessment proves the classes are working. According to Walker, the results from one district show students who had enrolled in the PreK4Ward program averaged 544 points.  The benchmark for success is 530 points.

"We knew the research would support what we're doing. It's based on research and how kids learn at this age," boasts Walker. "It's also a collection of the best practices and the curriculum that the state has designed, called the 'Early Learning Standards.' Ideally, every four year old preschool, whether it's a childcare center or a school that might be able to do it, or a program such as ours, can access these skills and teach them to their children. But unfortunately the ideal is not in most of our locations outside of PreK4Ward."

Cynthia Minton Walker advises parents to ask if their child care provider or their preschool follows the Department of Education's "Early Learning Standards."  If the answer is no, then she says you may want to "shop around." Parents can find a lot of useful resources at the  Mississippi Department of Education's website, including what your child needs to be learning before Kindergarten.

The PreK4Ward program is free to any student who turns four before September 1st. They accept children on a first come, first serve basis. For more information click here, or call (228) 224-5715.

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