- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - A free statewide program is helping preschool become a more popular option for families with young children across Iowa.

Educators with the Dubuque Community School District and Holy Family Catholic Schools told the Telegraph Herald (https://bit.ly/1NX0RuG ) that more families are enrolling their children in preschool. Many of them credit the statewide program offering free preschool to children who turn 4 by Sept. 15 for the increase.

The Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program for 4-Year-Old Children, which was established in 2007, requires participating school districts and community preschool partners to provide at least 10 hours of free preschool per week in exchange for state funding. Since its first year, enrollment in the program has grown from 5,126 preschoolers to 22,695 preschoolers this school year.

Nancy Murphy, early childhood coordinator with the Dubuque Community School District, estimates that about 50 more children currently are enrolled at Mercy Child Development Center and Preschool compared to the first year. The typical size of an incoming class in the school district is about 900 students.

“I’m feeling very confident that we are serving a large majority of the available 4-year-olds,” Murphy said.

Todd Wessels, director of curriculum for early childhood with Holy Family Catholic Schools, said almost all of the district’s kindergarteners now come from a preschool program.

“We hardly ever see a kindergartner who doesn’t come from a pre-kindergarten program,” said Todd Wessels. “Kindergarten is no longer the first entry to school.”

All of the participating school districts must implement a research or evidence-based curriculum that’s developmentally appropriate for preschoolers. The Creative Curriculum is used in Dubuque, where educators address a child’s four developmental domains of social-emotional, physical, cognitive and language throughout the day.

“The preschool curriculum is more of learning through play. It’s us, as the teachers, staging the classrooms for (children) to learn,” said Teri Wessels, director of Mercy Child Development Center and Preschool.

Many of the 12 public school and 20 community partner preschool sites still have openings for free preschool.

“We are able to serve anyone,” Murphy said. “We have a lot of options to fill families’ needs.”

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com


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