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Preschools experience boost in enrollments

Nonprofits
By: Carol Percy, Reporter Lincoln News Messenger
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About 30 years ago, educators recommended that parents keep their children at home until the youngsters entered kindergarten. Now, with the surge of technological advances, 5-year-olds are expected to know more. Consequently, they’re entering school earlier than before.

Observing a demand for early education in the Sheridan community, Kris Knutson, Sheridan Elementary School principal and Western Placer Unified School District’s preschool coordinator, spearheaded the district’s first preschool program in 2006.

Knutson said that the number of children entering preschool during the last five years has risen dramatically and early education has become the norm rather than the exception.

“We’ve seen an increase in enrollments in childcare and preschool programs, beginning about five years ago,” Knutson said. “The expectations about what kids know coming into kindergarten is increasing, so that if a child has not participated in preschool, they’re at a significant disadvantage.” To fund the initial early-preschool program, Knutson received a “First Five of Placer” grant (funded by Proposition 10 tobacco taxes). During seven years, the district has received $700,000.

The original two preschool sites were at Sheridan Elementary and First Street School. Knutson said the district has paid a total of $100,000 per year to fund preschools at the two locations.

The purpose behind offering preschool in the district was to ensure a smooth transition into the

K-to- 12 program, according to Knutson.

“We find that by handling it ourselves, we are able to control the curriculum, the format and the rigor. What we’re trying to do is close the learning gap that exists when you have differences in opportunities among kindergarteners,” Knutson said.

Currently, the district offers 264 slots for preschoolers at six sites. Little Blue Schoolhouse, Carlin C. Coppin Elementary and Sheridan Elementary are income-qualified schools. Fees for these programs are based on a family’s gross annual income and number of individuals in the household.

Typically, fees for part-time daily students range from $1 to $8.88 per day. Family fees are charged per family, per day, not per child. For example, a family of three earning between $1,950 and $2,027 monthly would pay $1 per day, according to the California Department of Education website. The district also offers fee waivers for special circumstances.

At First Street School, Creekside Oaks Elementary and Twelve Bridges Elementary, fees are $10 per day. Each school offers two sessions daily, Monday through Friday, except for Creekside Oaks Elementary, which offers one session daily.

Head Start and Star preschools are housed at Western Placer Unified School District facilities but are not run by the district.

Head Start, located at Carlin C. Coppin Elementary School, is for children aged 3 to 5. It’s a

federally-funded program and parents qualify, according to income and family size.

Head Start also offers a second income-dependent program at Phoenix High School for children aged birth to 3 -years -old. The children from these infant – toddler care programs can transition into preschools.