Topeka — The Lawrence school district has 60 children in a state-funded preschool program that researchers believe helps prepare the students for kindergarten.
Initial results of the state's program for at-risk 4-year-olds are promising, especially in terms of helping youngsters with limited English skills.
Sherrill Martinez of the Kansas Department of Education said an assessment of the first year of the $4.6 million state program serving 1,200 children offered a glimpse at what could be accomplished by reaching out to preschool children.
"I definitely think it should be continued," said Martinez, the department's director of planning and research. "The goal is to have everyone starting school ready to succeed."
She said the state's program for at-risk preschoolers exists in fewer than 50 school districts. While the Lawrence school district does participate, more than 250 districts haven't become involved in the program's competitive grant process.
"There's a lot of unmet need," Martinez said. "It's not just in urban areas. It's rural areas as well."
The study assessed the 4-year-old children in seven areas: personal and social development, language and literacy, mathematical thinking, scientific thinking, social studies, the arts and physical development.
When evaluated for the first time in fall 1998, no more than 28 percent of the students were proficient in any category. But when examined in spring 1999, at least half of the students were proficient in all areas.
The most impressive growth occurred in language and literacy among students with English as a second language, Martinez said.
Overall, she said, students in the program advanced significantly in mathematical thinking. The smallest growth was in physical development.
Martinez said additional research would be required over the next several years to determine how much of the growth could be attributed to natural maturation and how much to being involved in the state program.
In addition, she said, it was too early to tell if gains children made would be sustained.
Chris Anderson, coordinator for the Lawrence district's early childhood education program, said the district had been involved in preschool programs for four years. The district expects to receive $117,000 in state funding this school year for 60 children, an increase of $37,000 from the program's first year.
The district has two preschool classes at Centennial School and one each at East Heights and Pinckney schools.
"Research has shown us that the power of a child's brain is at a peak at those early years," Anderson said. "When we're able to have a child and a parent engaged in a high-quality preschool experience, then we really are building a strong foundation for kids."
She said there were an estimated 100 more 4-year-olds in Lawrence who would qualify for the state program if funding were available.
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