Preschool the Idaho Way has awarded planning grants to 14 communities across the state to create, expand or enhance local early learning opportunities. Each preschool collaborative will look different because each community is different.

Select a community below to learn more about its early learning goals:

+ American Falls

County: Power

Population: 4,280 (2017 Census), 8.5% under age 5 in the county

United Way of Southeastern Idaho is partnering with the American Falls School District, Lamb Weston Corporation and four existing preschool programs – Lighthouse Preschool, American Falls Head Start, St. John’s Preschool and Hillcrest Elementary Preschool Program – to explore and address the barriers local families face when looking for high-quality early learning programs.

Capacity alone is a challenge – there are not enough spaces in quality programs to meet community demand. And with a high percentage of families living in poverty, affordability is also a factor.

Only about 19% of American Falls students enter kindergarten with grade-level reading skills, according to 2017-18 Idaho Reading Indicator data. Many have limited English skills when they enter school.

By improving access to high-quality preschool, the collaborative hopes to increase the number of students who enter kindergarten with the skills they need to succeed.

United Way of Southeastern Idaho CEO Kevin Bailey says the collaborative has community support on its side.

“The American Falls community is extremely enthusiastic about this opportunity and sees a need and wants to respond collaboratively to that need,” he says. “It is highly encouraging that a business like Lamb Weston is at the table and sees a business case for expanding high-quality preschool programs in order to better serve their employees and increase retention.”

+ Blackfoot

County: Bingham

Population: 11,922 (2017 Census), 8.4% under age 5

The Blackfoot School District is exploring ways to expand its current developmental preschool to include a broader population of students and offer high-quality early learning to more families.

Many Blackfoot families cannot afford private preschool, and there are waiting lists for local Head Start programs. Transportation is also a challenge – in addition to financial limitations, many parents can’t leave their jobs mid-day. Families in which English is the second language face additional barriers in finding early learning options.

The school district is working with the Blackfoot Public Library, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Infant Toddler Program, the Blackfoot Head Start Program, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Early Intervention Head Start Program, Blackfoot Mayor Marc Carroll, and a Blackfoot School District Parent Advisory Committee member and migrant family liaison.

“We have a very diverse community, which is a benefit,” says Lynette Carter, special education coordinator for the Blackfoot School District. “We have a good migrant program in our district, and we also have a good relationship with Sho-Ban Tribes and coordinate many parent and community activities with them.”

+ Coeur d’Alene

County: Kootenai

Population: 50,665 (2017 Census), 7.7% under age 5

The United Way of North Idaho Early Care and Education Task Force is focused on connecting businesses with opportunities to invest in early childhood education. It is creating informational portfolios detailing tax benefits, insurance and legal considerations, employee benefits, and location options. The goal is to provide employers with a model for business-sponsored preschool.

There are currently 11 preschool-only programs in Kootenai County and an additional 115 child care programs serving preschool-aged children, offering a total of 978 continuously filled preschool slots. Over 9,000 children under age 5 reside in the county, according to the 2017 American Community Survey.

The cost and duration of those preschools often do not meet the needs of ALICE families – those who are working but struggle to afford necessities such as housing, food, health care and child care. In addition, access to preschools in the metro area is often not convenient or feasible for families living outside the city.

“Professionally, we’ve heard from dozens of families who forego quality child care, or forego their career, to stay home due to the high cost of care,” says Keri Stark, director of community impact for United Way of North Idaho. “Personally, I struggled with guilt and discomfort in where I could afford to put my child for care. Until my son was old enough for a private preschool, and we’d reached an income threshold that could support tuition, we needed all-day care and our options were very limited because of affordability, even as a two-income household. The centers that met this criteria were not staffed adequately, and the staff were not paid adequately, and as a result my child spent long days in a high-stress, chaotic environment, with lots of time in front of a TV, rather than a nurturing and growth-promoting space. It negatively affected my mental well-being as a parent and, by extension, my interactions with my son, and also negatively impacted my ability to be present and focused at work.”

But Stark sees many community strengths that will help the Coeur d’Alene collaborative’s efforts to address these challenges, including a dedicated group of early care and education professionals, colleges with high-quality child development degree programs, supportive school districts and a culture of collaboration among nonprofits that work with children and families.

United Way of North Idaho is joined by a long list of partners: Panhandle Health District Childcare Resource Center, Mountain States Early Head Start, Coeur d’Alene Schools, Coeur d’Alene Vision 2030, North Idaho College, the Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls Chambers of Commerce, Pangea Realty, Alliance Data, Northwest Specialty Hospital, the City of Coeur d’Alene Community Development Block Grants program, and the University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene’s child development degree programs, along with retired and current early childhood education professionals.

+ Garden City

County: Ada

Population: 11,890 (2017 Census), 5.3% under age 5

Giraffe Laugh is partnering with the Boys & Girls Club, Family Advocates, the Garden City Public Library, Future Public School and Learning Lab to expand access to high-quality early learning opportunities in Garden City, where there are currently only about 260 spaces available in child care and preschool centers to accommodate the city’s 630 children under age 5.

Beyond the challenge of simply finding open spaces, affordability is a barrier for many families. In some areas of Garden City, the poverty rate is as high as 27%. ALICE families – those who are working but struggle to afford necessities such as housing, food and health care – run into the issue of making too much to qualify for aid or scholarships but not enough to access high-quality care. Giraffe Laugh programs are dedicated to addressing that gap.

The Garden City collaborative hopes to build on an existing partnership between the Boys & Girls Club and Future Public School, which provide before- and after-school care for children most in need by prioritizing the Garden City zip code. Giraffe Laugh hopes to begin offering preschool for siblings of the school-age children already in those programs, and for other income-eligible children in the city.

The collaborative counts local government among its biggest advantages, with wide support for early childhood education among voters and elected officials, including Garden City Mayor John Evans.

+ Jerome

County: Jerome

Population: 11,636 (2017 Census), 9.6% under age 5

The Jerome School District hopes to expand its developmental preschool housed at Horizon Elementary to include a broader population of students and address a lack of high-quality early learning opportunities in the area.

Although there a variety of preschools in the community, all have waiting lists and finding quality can be a challenge. Affordability is also a factor for many families, with nearly 20% of Jerome’s population at or below the poverty level. With only one parent working in many households, it’s common for families to keep their child at home with the other parent instead of paying for preschool. Those children often arrive at kindergarten without the academic or social foundation they need to succeed, says Kim Lickley, federal programs director for the Jerome School District.

The school district is partnering with United Way of South Central Idaho, Lee Pesky Learning Center, College of Southern Idaho’s Head Start, Valley Therapy Services and a local preschool owner to address these challenges.

+ Kendrick-Juliaetta

County: Latah

Population: Kendrick 307, Juliaetta 595 (2017 Census), 5.6% under age 5 in the county

Kendrick-Juliaetta is the only previously established preschool collaborative to receive a planning grant. The 21st Century Community Learning Center launched in 2017, after parents, educators and community members mobilized to gain support from the Kendrick Joint School District Board. The program is currently funded with a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant. To keep costs down, parents are required to help in the classroom and provide snacks at least one day a month. The preschool admits children in the following order: 5-year-olds who are not kindergarten ready, 3-year-olds with Individual Education Programs, then 4-year-olds.

Now, with a planning grant from Preschool the Idaho Way, the collaborative is looking at ways to provide universal preschool for the community’s 4-year-olds and create a morning program for its 3-year-olds. The collaborative partners are the KJ7 Education Foundation, KJ7 Preschool Focus Group, Kendrick School District, Juliaetta Library and KJ7 Community Development Association.

The collaborative hopes to locate a sustainable source of funding to expand the program while keeping it affordable for families.

+ Kuna

County: Ada

Population: 19,200 (2017 Census), 8% under age 5

Since 2015, a Kuna collaborative called Get Ready to Learn Kuna! has focused on supporting and empowering parents, leveraging the community and working with local early learning programs to prepare more children for school. The group includes representatives from the Kuna School District and city government, along with local preschools, businesses and parents. The group has also partnered with Lee Pesky Learning Center to provide assessments and literacy training to programs.

Now, with a Preschool the Idaho Way grant, Get Ready to Learn Kuna! and its community partners plan to identify the number of Kuna children not enrolled in preschool and learn more about the barriers families face. At the same time, they hope to educate group members on evidence-based practices and curriculum.

“Our ultimate goal is that all 4-year-olds will be kindergarten ready: socially, emotionally and academically,” the collaborative says.

Although there are a range of early learning programs in the area – including two Head Start classes, a Kuna School District program for children with developmental delays, and an assortment of private programs – significant gaps in access remain. Spaces in preschool classrooms are often limited, and many families simply cannot afford a quality program. And for parents who work all day, part-time preschool programs are not ideal. At a roundtable discussion in Kuna, one program director said her facility’s all-day preschool class is the most popular, with a waiting list of 40, because of its appeal to working families.

With a growing community of migrant workers and English language learners, there is also a vital need for more bilingual programs. A lack of transportation can also be a barrier for many families. Beyond that, Kuna educators say there is a need to help families in the community understand the importance of early learning. One local kindergarten teacher says she hears a common refrain: “My child doesn’t need to go to school yet.”

+ Lewiston

County: Nez Perce

Population: 32,820 (2017 Census), 5.9% under age 5

Lewis-Clark State College is focused on expanding the number of spaces in its KinderCollege program, implementing a high-quality curriculum, and working toward a long-term goal of using the KinderCollege as a model preschool through which LCSC students in the Early Childhood Program can earn practicum credit. The collaborative – which includes representatives from the Lewis-Clark Early Childhood Program, which is the local Head Start, and other community advocates – also hopes to unite early childhood professionals in a commitment to high-quality.

Alicia Robertson, Lewis-Clark State College assistant professor and director of the LCSC Early Childhood Program, says the community’s challenges mirror themes across the state: Child care providers struggle to recruit and pay high-quality teachers while keeping programs affordable for families.

In Nez Perce County, 48% of children 3 to 4 years old are not enrolled in any type of school. And for those living below 200% of the poverty level, that rate is 75%. With the average cost of full-time child care in Nez Perce County at about $600 a month, affordability is a factor for many families. About 22% of programs in the area participate in the Idaho Child Care Program, which assists low-income families. There is frequently a waiting list for the Lewis-Clark Early Childhood Program, and some households find themselves making too much to qualify for the program but not enough to cover the cost of other child care or preschool.

As the LSCS Early Childhood Program works to align its degree to meet all NAEYC standards for teacher preparation, it has struggled to find enough local programs where students can practice what they are learning with experienced mentor teachers.

Despite the barriers, Robertson sees promising change on the horizon. Most child care providers in the community are passionate about doing the best work possible, and the college works closely with IdahoSTARS as it educates students in the early childhood field.

“We all want the same thing, and having a tool such as Preschool the Idaho Way is going to help unite, rather than isolate, all those who are in the early childhood field and find a way to increase awareness about the importance of early childhood experiences in our community,” Robertson says. “One person can’t do it all – but a collaboration of people can be a force for change.”

+ Marsing

County: Owyhee

Population: 1,298 (2017 Census), 6.5% under age 5 in county

The Marsing School District and Marsing Head Start are partnering with local and state organizations to create and sustain a model preschool that will serve 40 children – double the current capacity of the community’s high-quality program.

Marsing Head Start is guiding the team with administrative expertise and preschool institutional knowledge. Lizard Butte Library plans to provide literacy services and resources to children and parents, while the Marsing Parent Teacher Organization will help with fundraising and family outreach, in addition to coordinating parent volunteer time in the preschool.

Two years ago, Marsing School District conducted a communitywide survey regarding preschool needs. With 94 responses, 98% said it would be beneficial if Marsing had a preschool and 88% said they or someone they knew would have enrolled their children in preschool if the district had offered it.

The community lacks resources found in larger cities, such as a YMCA or Boys & Girls Club, and Marsing Head Start is currently the only preschool in the area that meets national standards of quality, according to Ken Price, program director for the school district’s 21st Century Community Learning Center.

Enrollment in the program is based on income and other special considerations, and many families don’t qualify – or don’t even try to enroll because they assume they don’t qualify. Many of those same families do not have the means or the time to take their children to quality preschools in Caldwell or Nampa. The Marsing School District has had an average Free and Reduced Lunch rate of 70% over the last decade.

It is common to see kindergarten classes in which 85% or more of the students have very limited or no reading skills as measured by the Idaho Reading Indicator, Price says. Because the IRI is in English, the large population of Marsing students from households where Spanish is the primary language are at a disadvantage.

Price witnesses the results of disparate early learning experiences.

“Every year I see students enter kindergarten who do not even know how to hold a pencil or cut with scissors. Then I see other students who know how to read. The disparity is remarkable,” Price says. “Even at the kindergarten level, some kids already self-identify as being ‘not very smart.’ This is almost always because they have not had the same learning opportunity as other kids who attended an excellent preschool or received quality in-home education. A preschool partnership with Head Start will alleviate some of the disparity.”

Marsing has the advantage of a community culture rooted in service to others and pride in its schools, Price says. Two years ago, the small community passed a school bond of $13.5 million. It also moves fast to take advantage of grant opportunities that can benefit its students.

With plans to house the community preschool in the same building as the school district office and next door to Marsing Elementary School, the goal is to combine professional development resources and align curriculum with the kindergarten. That location will also allow for the preschool to access services such as mental health counseling, speech therapy or other interventions. Hosting schooling and events for all ages in one place will also facilitate family engagement, Price says.

+ Nampa

County: Canyon

Population: 93,590 (2017 Census), 7.8% under age 5

The Nampa Early Childhood Learning Center (NECLC) is a developmental preschool serving about 180 students. Most of the children enrolled in the program are eligible for special education services. Now, with a Preschool the Idaho Way planning grant, NECLC will start expanding its capacity with plans to eventually serve all interested families in the Nampa School District. The immediate goal is to add a class of 3- and 4-year-olds for the upcoming school year.

There are a variety of both home- and center-based preschool programs in the Nampa area, though many do not hire certified teachers. And with 20% of Nampa residents living at or below the poverty line, affordability and accessibility are barriers many families face when searching for early learning programs. NECLC and the Nampa School District aim to change that by offering opportunities for high-quality early childhood education regardless of a family’s income or background.

The district has partnered with Lee Pesky Learning Center to provide professional development to teachers. Collaborative partners also include D.L. Evans Bank, Cap Ed Credit Union and St. Luke’s Health System in Nampa. And NECLC is working closely with Head Start, which joined the campus this year.

In an interview with Idaho AEYC, NECLC Principal Ben Kincheloe discussed the strength of the existing preschool program.

“It really helps the kids out,” he said. “We have amazing teachers, and everyone who works there is just wonderful. They’re very knowledgeable about the needs of those children. They don’t just support the academics – they support the social and emotional, they support all other needs. And they work great as a team in doing so.”

+ Notus

County: Canyon

Population: 621 (2017 Census), 7.7% under age 5 in the county

Roni’s House Childcare, an existing Notus facility, is partnering with Notus Elementary School and the Notus School District to develop a high-quality early learning program called Treasures Playschool.

The goal is to address a shortage of child care options within the community, where many spots are filled by children from nearby Parma and working families must often look outside the community for child care and preschool opportunities.

The Canyon-Owyhee School Service Agency, Notus Parent Teacher Organization, Notus School Board and Notus Public Library have signed on to collaborate on the new preschool.

“Over recent years, Notus has become increasingly committed to forming strong connections between school and community,” says Notus Elementary School Principal Jen Wright. “Being a small community affords us the opportunity to build real, personal relationships in order to better support one another from many angles. ... Pulling together to support our youngest learners at the beginning of their education journey is a powerful way to unite us in growing a strong future."

+ Sandpoint

County: Bonner

Population: 8,390 (2017 Census), 5.1% of children under age 5 in the county

In West Bonner County, Storybook Cottage LLC – the nonprofit arm of Priest River-based Children’s Learning World LLC – plans to partner with Lee Pesky Learning Center, Parents as Teachers, local libraries, school districts and businesses to offer free preschool for 4-year-olds in the area.

“We have had a lot of support, and the more the community sees that we offer a real quality program, we will be receiving even more support!” says Tana Vanderholm of Storybook Cottage.

The community faces a lack of high-quality early learning programs and professionals with degrees in early childhood education, Vanderholm says. Without state funding for those roles in Idaho, she suspects that individuals who would be great at working with children often seek other professional opportunities.

But families need those high-quality programs. Many parents work long hours and multiple jobs to make ends meet, often seeking weekend or 24-hour child care options.

The collaborative held a roundtable discussion with members of the public to learn more about what local families want to see. The most pressing topic was the need for a formal preschool program. Parents expressed concern that many programs that are called preschool in the area are really just child care in small environments, with no structure for the day or mention of assessments or curriculum. Parents also discussed how children need to feel valued in their environment so they are ready to learn. They want their children to be excited about going to school.

The area is growing and changing, with new businesses offering employment opportunities and attracting families.

“With new people come new opportunities in the way of ideas, experiences, and excitement,” Vanderholm says. “We are very excited to see what this community can offer our young children as we grow and develop some good quality preschool programs!”

+ Rigby

County: Jefferson

Population: 4,062 (2017 Census), 8.6% under age 5 in the county

The Jefferson Joint School District is exploring ways to expand access to what is currently a developmental preschool at Roberts Elementary. The district is collaborating with Head Start, as well as a member of the community Lion’s Club and the Parent Teacher Organization’s president.

After determining who will be eligible for the expanded preschool, one of the collaborative’s main goals is identifying transportation options for those students, since many families live on farms outside of city limits. The collaborative will also take into consideration the needs of families that do not speak English at home and often struggle to locate inclusive high-quality preschool and child care options in the area.

The tight-knit nature of the Roberts community is an advantage for the collaborative, says Todd Zollinger, director of the English learner program for the school district.

“The community is very small, with few businesses other than farming and the school to provide employment for residents,” he says. “Because of that, many of the teachers and staff at the school are experienced, active members of the community. We are able to draw on their experience as long-term community pillars and as teachers to design and implement the best possible preschool program for our students.”

+ Twin Falls

County: Twin Falls

Population: 49,202 (2017 Census), 7.7% under age 5

The College of Southern Idaho is partnering with the Twin Falls School District, United Way of South Central Idaho, Idaho Small Business Development Center and Idaho Educational Services for the Deaf and Blind to create a 5-day, high-quality early learning program in the Magic Valley.

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If you are interested in hosting a roundtable discussion about early learning challenges and successes in your community, or if you want to learn more about creating a community collaborative, please reach out to Erika Lewis at elewis@idahoaeyc.org.