Quality preschool programs make a difference for kids

By: Dr. Vicki Barber, El Dorado County Superintendent of Schools
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On her way to work in the morning, Jane’s mother drops her off at her preschool program. While at preschool, Jane learns her letters and their sounds, numbers, cooperative play, and social skills. Jane’s parents want to do everything possible to ensure that Jane has the proper foundation for later school success. They know that it makes a tremendous difference to have Jane participate in a quality preschool program. We are fortunate in El Dorado County to have quality preschool programs to serve Jane and other 3-5 year old children. In El Dorado County over 4,000 preschool age children are currently served through licensed preschools, and county data shows that approximately 65 percent of the four year olds attend preschool the year prior to kindergarten entry. Research shows access to effective, high quality preschool has the potential to dramatically impact children’s lives, improving chances for school and life success. Current research documents that children who have enrolled in quality preschool enter school ready to learn, experience less grade retention, have less involvement in the criminal justice system and demonstrate more positive behavioral characteristics. In El Dorado County, we continually work to expand access to quality preschool programs which support children and families in the community. Critical to the success of providing preschool services is that they are accessible both geographically and economically. In this endeavor, several entities have joined forces to maximize our effectiveness. The Early Care and Education Planning Council, which is focused on child development services and represents both the private and public providers, has for many years served as a network to support all preschool providers throughout the county. The Early Care and Education Planning Council coordinated the offering of financial support for preschool providers to go back to school and improve their skills. In addition, the council has led an effort to develop a county-wide strategic plan to identify any gaps in services, as well as to address a myriad of issues around how we can support preschool services. The First 5 El Dorado Commission has also provided leadership by implementing several initiatives to address school readiness. Through the First 5 Commission, Early Childhood Specialists assist families, children and preschool providers. This assistance is offered in a variety of forms, from serving as a resource to families if there are questions regarding a child’s development, to facilitating the transition of children from preschool to kindergarten. In addition, the First 5 Commission has created an initiative to develop specific transition plans for children going from preschool environments to kindergarten and to connect preschool teachers with kindergarten teachers. The transition plans and joint staff meetings allow kindergarten teachers to build on the knowledge preschool teachers possess regarding a child’s strengths and developmental needs. The El Dorado County Office of Education actively collaborates with First 5 El Dorado and the Early Care and Education Planning Council to support these efforts, as well as directly provides preschool services to children and families throughout the county. The County Office of Education has a long history of providing quality programs and services including Head Start, Early Head Start, General Child Care, State Preschool, CalSAFE, Latchkey, and Special Education programs. The County Office has historically been recognized and commended for their exemplary programs and services through accreditation measures, state and federal reviews, and independent studies. In El Dorado County, Jane has the opportunity to begin her educational experience in preschool. It is no longer only a K-12 system, representing kindergarten through 12th grade, it is a PK - 16 system that is working in El Dorado County to support Jane and other children to ensure their success in our schools. Editor’s note: Jane is a fictional character. Vicki Barber is the El Dorado County Superintendent of Schools.