Three full-day pre-kindergarten classes are available in the College Station school district, but more are expected to be added for the 2020-2021 school year.
As part of the most recent Texas Legislative session, school districts throughout the state will be adding full-day pre-kindergarten programs, but House Bill 3 allows districts to submit waivers to delay the implementation.
Though there are three full-day pre-K options available in College Station, the district is choosing to submit a waiver for the 2019-2020 school year so that administrators and staff members can fully assess the need.
Part of the decision is the established federal Head Start and Early Head Start programs in the district. While the district determines the need for pre-K classes, the Head Start program will serve as College Station’s partner to meet the requirement set out in House Bill 3 that districts still provide services for students.
All 13 Head Start classrooms, which serve 3- and 4-year-olds, are full-day options. Then, the district has three full-day pre-K classes and four sections of half-day pre-K, College Station Chief Academic Officer Penny Tramel said.
“We decided to go with caution, add a couple of sections this year and then do some research and try to add to accommodate all of our eligible kids for full day this next year,” she said.
Even after the full-day pre-K is fully implemented, Tramel said, she expects the district to keep at least one half-day option available if that is still allowed through HB3.
“We have some parents who actually like the half-day. They actually prefer their kids coming for half the day, so we want to accommodate that as well,” she said.
One of the goals with the full-day pre-K, Tramel said, is to offer a tuition-based option for employees who want to enroll their children in the program. Part of this planning year will include researching a tuition-based cost.
Pre-kindergarten, Head Start and Early Head Start are all free to qualifying students, based on multiple eligibility criteria.
If the district establishes a tuition-based option, Tramel said, she is an advocate for mixing those students into classrooms with students who qualify for free pre-K services.
“I feel very strongly about mixing the kids, because I feel like that’s one thing that we can do to make a difference in a more natural way,” she said. “I’m very much a constructivist and think that we learn through talking and making meaning and having dialogue. … Learning through constructivism is, to me, powerful because it involved inquiry and making your own meaning in your head from your experiences and from dialogue and just social interactions. That’s what we want. We want kids to be doing and inquiring.”
It is more likely, she noted, for the vocabulary the students are learning to mean more if they are learning in a natural way from peers, even at the age of 3 or 4.
“As we continue to expand our pre-K program, we want to create a very literacy-rich environment, and we want to capitalize on making it enriching for everyone,” she said.
The goal, she said, would be for the students to attend pre-K at their zoned school.
“That would eliminate transition,” Tramel continued. “It also helps reduce stress and anxiety, because if I started going to a school when I was 3 and I go to that school through fourth grade, that’s zero transition, other than maybe a new teacher, but I’m going to the same school, I have the same cafeteria people taking care of me for breakfast and lunch. I’ve got the same counselor and principal. I know the environment.”
That experience also helps the child feel like they are part of a family and belong at that school, she said.
“The earlier you can get kids into that environment and provide them some structure and quality experiences and learning opportunities, then the odds are greater that we can close the achievement gap that we know is there. … There’s a lot to be said for consistency and environment,” she said.
Even as the pre-K program is implemented, Tramel said, the district’s Head Start and Early Head Start, which serves children from birth to 5 years old, will remain available for qualifying children and families.
The Early Head Start program starts as a home-based service where district personnel work with the child and parent together by helping with socialization and establishing “play dates” for the child and helping parents learn parenting skills and create a support system.
The children then move into a classroom setting when they enter Head Start at 3.
During Tuesday’s meeting, College Station school board members voted to approve the Birth to Five Head Start Governance, Leadership and Oversight Capacity Screener for the 2019-2020 school year, which allows the district to receive the associated grant for the federal program.
For more information about pre-kindergarten, Head Start and Early Head Start, go to tinyurl.com/CSISDEarlyChildhood. The Early Childhood Education page also includes links to the Head Start and pre-K application, which will remain open throughout the school year.