With support from state leaders, Alabama is continuing to expand its First Class Pre-K program to classrooms across the state and will be adding more than a dozen new units in Mobile County.
After signing the state’s $7.1 billion education budget into law last week, Gov. Kay Ivey promptly announced the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education (ADECE) would be adding 164 new First Class Pre-K classrooms, expanding the program in 38 counties this fall.
First Class Pre-K is a voluntary program for 4-year-olds that can be operated by public schools or private institutions meeting the state standards for quality when it comes to teachers, class sizes and programming. Though Alabama continues to lag behind in national education rankings, it’s First Class Pre-K program has been heralded as one of the nation’s best for years.
Allison Muhlendorf, executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance (ASRA), told Lagniappe this week the programs Alabama plans to expand in Mobile in 2019 include “a very diverse mix of existing childcare providers and public schools.”
Muhlendorf, who advocates for Pre-K expansion in Alabama through the ASRA, said programs like First Class help young learners as they start their education, but also have long-lasting impacts because they occur during a crucial time in the brain’s development: age 4.
“Since 90 percent of brain development occurs during a child’s first five years of life, early childhood experiences establish either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for everything that follows,” Muhlendorf wrote via email. “Research has found that students who participate in an Alabama First Class Pre-K classroom — regardless of demographics, zip code or school — are more likely to be proficient in math and reading than their peers.”
By the start of the 2019 – 2020 school year, voluntary pre-kindergarten programs are expected to be educating 21,636 children in more than 1,202 classrooms statewide — moving Alabama closer toward its stated goal of serving up to 70 percent of eligible 4-year-olds.
For Mobile County, the increased funding will mean an additional 16 Pre-K classrooms operating when the school year starts in August. Eight of those will be run by public school systems, one at Chickasaw Elementary and the rest in the Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS).
MCPSS Pre-K manager Paula Reese said getting students involved at an early age has been shown to benefit students academically, as well as socially and emotionally.
“Students enrolled in high-quality Pre-K classes are less likely to repeat a grade or be referred for special services,” Reese told Lagniappe. “It also helps them to be better prepared socially and emotionally, not only throughout kindergarten, but into elementary school as well.”
This year, MCPSS will add programs at Castlen, Dixon, Fonde, Hutchens, O’Rourke, J.E. Turner and St. Elmo elementary schools, but others throughout the county will be established through private organizations like Head Start, Mt. Ararat Missionary Baptist Church, Discovery Days, Bridgeway Academy and others. A full list of all the First Class Pre-K sites throughout Mobile County is available on the ADECE website and at lagniappemobile.com.
Reese noted that even though some First Class programs are run through private organizations, they are all held to the same “high-quality” standards. Teachers and assistants at those programs also work with the state on training, monitoring and coaching throughout the school year.
She also said MCPSS works with those organizations because they’re serving future students.
“We partner with Head Start and other First Class programs because students who will enter our kindergarten classrooms next year will be in their programs this year,” Reese added.
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