A new Lawrence preschool program that combines children's needs with parental involvement gets underway with the start of the fall school term.
Two things need to happen before Princess Harris can begin teaching preschoolers involved in Lawrence's new early childhood education program.
"The first order of business is for the children to separate from mom and dad -- that's usually the hardest part," said Harris, a 10-year veteran of the Wichita public school system. "The next order of business is finding the bathroom, because that's important when you're 4."
Next Wednesday, Harris will gather 23 4-year-olds in an East Heights Elementary classroom, and the early childhood education cooperative will begin.
A program for 3-year-olds in the works currently has eight enrolled. It will also be housed at East Heights.
The program, which involves the Lawrence School District and the Lawrence business-education partnership, is designed to serve children who may face difficulties when they start kindergarten. The first year will be funded entirely with private donations.
With the program's debut still a week away, contributions have already met the $45,000 goal, said Linda Robinson, director of the Lawrence business-education partnership.
"We've been overwhelmed," Robinson said. "It's just been amazing."
With pledges still being tallied, Robinson said 46 businesses and individuals have contributed $47,454 to a program that should give big returns. School officials point to research demonstrating that every $1 spent on early childhood education saves $7 in remedial education costs later.
"Most people look at this as a long-term investment," Robinson said.
The program will benefit children and parents alike.
"We're able to provide the whole gamut of early childhood education," said Marlene Merrill, Lawrence Public Schools director of assessments and grants. "It's also an avenue for parents to become involved."
Merrill said parental involvement is always encouraged but especially so with preschoolers. Parents and children can work together on computers, learning colors and shapes, and during field trips, for example. Parents can also learn valuable skills.
"The other side of this is the parent piece," Robinson said. "The parent agrees to pursue a GED if they don't have it, or pursue other educational development skills or employability skills."
Currently, an estimated 250 at-risk children locally are not involved in preschool education.
Harris, who spent a decade in Wichita in early childhood education, said she has seen plenty of at-risk children, who often come from poverty-level or low-education families.
"Often what one family takes for granted others do not -- like having your own toothbrush or being read to before bed," Harris said. "It was eye-opening for me."