Preschool the Idaho Way has awarded planning grants to communities across the state to establish preschool collaboratives. The goal is to bring together local experts in early childhood education to pool resources and develop affordable, high-quality early learning opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be available to many families. Each collaborative will look different because each community is different.
Kuna is an Ada County town of 19,200 where 8% of the population is under the age of 5. 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 that work all day, part-time preschool programs are not ideal. At a roundtable discussion in Kuna last week, 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 many families in the community don’t yet understand the importance of early learning. One local kindergarten teacher said she hears a common refrain: “My child doesn’t need to go to school yet.”
Since 2015, a Kuna collaborative called Get Ready to Learn 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 planning grant from Idaho AEYC and guidance from the Preschool the Idaho Way toolkit, Get Ready to Learn 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.