Free preschool expands with help of private daycares

Published: Oct. 24, 2013 at 8:00 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 25, 2013 at 9:53 AM CDT
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HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A free pre-school program is expanding in a way that also benefits children who are part of the program. This month, PreK4ward started classes for four-year-olds living in the Harrison County School District. It's taking a partnership with PreK4ward, the public school district and private daycares.

The learning that takes place in a PreK4ward classroom is based on Mississippi's early education standards. So by the time four-year-olds turn five, they should be well prepared for the curriculum and the structure they'll see in kindergarten. Until now, the classes were in Gulfport only. But like the children, this preschool program is evolving.

PreK4ward Director Cynthia Minton-Walker said, "Two and a half years ago we only had one class. It was at Central Elementary School. Right now we have now we have five independent classes."

The Harrison County School District didn't have classroom space for PreK4ward, so private child care centers Wee Ones and Gulfport Academy made room. At Gulfport Academy the staff was eager to welcome PreK4ward's certified teachers into the building.

"It really provides a lot of training for our teachers. They've been really open about letting us watch them, answering questions that we may have as far as their curriculum goes and as far as their structure goes," said Heather Williams, Gulfport Academy Director. "A lot of times in child care centers our learning is based upon learning through play and kind of through circle time and stuff like that where this program is a little more structured to prepare them with the reality of kindergarten."

PreK4ward official said while they're happy to be reaching more children, they are far from satisfied.

"We want to see our five go to 10 and at some point our goal is to see every four-year-old, at least on the Coast, able to access free preschool," said Walker. "I often say my goal is to work myself out of a job because when the state begins to fund it for all four-year-olds."

PreK4ward is currently taking applications and officials say admission is on a first come first served basis. Along with the two private child care centers in Harrison County there is also a four-year-old class operating at a private center in Waveland.

PreK4Ward is completely funded using private donations from individuals, corporations and grants. And all donors will receive a tax credit for their contributions.

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