Group hears benefits of quality Pre-K

WATERLOO — The DeKalb Central Early Learning Center at Waterloo Elementary School served as an example of a high quality pre-kindergarten program during a community event Tuesday.

All IN 4 Pre-K, a campaign of families and community leaders working to expand pre-kindergarten statewide, hosted the event to promote the benefits of high-quality pre-kindergarten.

The DeKalb Central school district opened its preschool three years ago, initially serving 30 children. Demand for the program was evident, and it grew to serve 96 children in a full-day setting last year, those at the gathering heard. Currently there is a waiting list for families who wish to use the program.

Grant funds to pay for tuition are available for qualifying families. Those who do not qualify pay $5 per day.

The classes are staffed by licensed teachers and paraprofessionals, with the student-to-teacher ratio at 12-to-1, Waterloo Elementary School Principal Matt Whonsetler explained.

“We believe that success starts early,” said Jessica Millen, field organizer for Early Learning Indiana.

John Peirce, a consultant for the Big Goal Collaborative, described quality early education as “critically important.”

“The only thing that has been proven to work is high quality,” Peirce said. “If we have that, we can change — revolutionize — education as we know it in Indiana. … We are at a point in time where there is enough evidence that high-quality pre-k works.”

According to the All IN 4 Pre-K campaign, investing in high-quality learning opportunities better prepares children for kindergarten and sets them up for long-term academic success. According to Peirce, in DeKalb County, only 18 percent of children who need pre-kindergarten have access to a high-quality program. That figure is 13 percent across the state, Peirce added. He said Indiana is one of nine states that does not have state-funded preschool.

However, Peirce cautioned against expanding too quickly at the expense of maintaining high-quality programs.

DeKalb Central curriculum and instruction specialist Julia Tipton said children in poverty who do not receive preschool programming often lack “soft skills” such as waiting in line, collecting their lunch trays, selecting a book and going outside to play.

Peirce said the public can show its support for early learning in Indiana by visiting allIN4prek.com.