Although the state is helping to fund preschool providers in Jackson County for a pilot program called On My Way Pre-K, Seymour Community Schools will not be participating.

The district, however, is considering continuing with its public preschool program, which was put in place this past fall.

In its first year at Seymour-Redding Elementary School, 65 students ages 3 and 4 have had the opportunity to develop their academic, social and motor skills. Like other area preschools, it offers a 3-year-old program two days a week and a 4-year-old program three days a week. There is a morning and an afternoon class for each age group.

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The state pilot program is just for 4-year-olds and requires students to attend a minimum of 450 hours per year.

“In order for our 4-year-old program to meet that requirement, they would have to go every day, which means we would have to cut our 3-year-old program,” Mika Ahlbrand told the school board Tuesday night.

“Our decision was that the pilot requirements didn’t fit the needs of our program,” said Ahlbrand, who is director of special education.

Ahlbrand said she has worked closely with the Jackson County Education Coalition’s preschool committee and director Dan Hodge to support and promote the state’s Pre-K Pilot in the community.

Superintendent Rob Hooker said an On My Way Pre-K program may be available through Child Care Network at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School.

“We are not able to meet all the criteria they are asking for, financially or transportation-wise,” Hooker said of On My Way Pre-K. “It is cost prohibitive for public schools to participate, so we are just providing the space for another agency to provide the service.”

Child Care Network has operated a Family Preschool program in the past at both Brown and Jackson elementary schools.

At least one parent had high hopes and expectations when she enrolled her child in the first public preschool program, Seymour G.R.A.D.S. Preschool, last fall.

Natasha Langford wanted to make sure her son, Aiden, got the attention he needed and learned the skills required to be ready for kindergarten. Those expectations and goals have not only been met but exceeded, she said.

Now that Aiden is just a couple of months away from completing his first year of preschool, Langford said she is still amazed by his progress and growth.

“Aiden is more confident. He has learned his letters. He loves to read more now and can recognize his name,” Langford said. “He is very engaged at preschool and loves to tell me what he has learned that day. It has given him a sense of accomplishment and a passion for learning.”

Educators believe that confidence and love of learning will stay with Aiden as he gets older, making him more successful in the future and increasing the probability he will graduate from high school. The same goes for other students enrolled in preschool, which is why school officials want Seymour to continue to offer pre-K.

On Tuesday, Ahlbrand asked the school board to approve the program again for the 2015-16 school year.

“In addition to the 30 3-year-old students that likely will be returning, we have 16 more families that have called asking if we are going to have it next year,” she said. “They are ready to go as soon as the board approves it.”

Trustees will vote on the issue in April.

The name of the program says it all, Ahlbrand said.

Seymour G.R.A.D.S. Preschool’s aim is for young children to “Get Ready And Develop Skills” for kindergarten.

The program also has helped educators and families work together to identify 21 students with speech or language concerns and another student with a developmental delay. By identifying those students now, there is a better chance of addressing circumstances and needs before it’s too late, Ahlbrand said.

The idea for G.R.A.D.S. Preschool was to provide services to students from low-income families and those with special needs. She said those students are more at-risk of falling behind their peers, which can lead to them dropping out of school.

The program was made possible by a $100,000 grant from the Jackson County Education Coalition using money donated by Cummins Inc., which continues to support education projects in the community.

“There’s definitely a big push here for preschool and early intervention,” Ahlbrand said.

Funding for the preschool also is coming from the corporation’s special education fund. Those preschool students receiving special educational services generate $2,750 per student in funding from the state for a total of $60,500.

G.R.A.D.S. Preschool teacher Amanda Easton said having many choices available for preschool is better than having just a few.

“This program has given families another option to choose from when deciding on preschool for their child,” she said. “There is a need in the community for more opportunities so that young children can get a valuable early-childhood education experience.”

Ahlbrand said the program has been beneficial to students, their families and the community.

“We’re very proud of what we have,” she said. “We have spent a lot of time developing the program, and it has been a huge success.”

At a glance

What: Roundup and registration for Seymour G.R.A.D.S. Preschool

Where: Seymour-Redding Elementary School

When: 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. April 28 and 4 to 6 p.m. April 30

Interested families need to schedule a screening appointment first by calling 812-522-5621 to make sure they meet the low-income or special needs requirements.

Admission to the program is based on need after students are screened.

G.R.A.D.S. Preschool for 4-year-olds

  • Must be 4 years of age by Aug. 1
  • Classes meet three days a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (morning session is from 8:30 to 11 a.m., afternoon class meets from 12:15 to 2:45 p.m.).

G.R.A.D.S. Preschool for 3-year-olds

  • Must turn 3 by Aug 1.
  • Classes meet two days a week on Tuesday and Thursday (morning and afternoon sessions are the same times as the 4-year-old classes).
Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.