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Foundation offers jump start for preschoolers


October 02, 2013 | 10:26 AM

Among the five predictors of a student having success on their educational journey is early childhood development, or, in other words, being ready for kindergarten.

"Eighty-five percent of a child's brain growth happens by age 5," Steve Gilliland, executive director of the Harrison County Community Foundation, said during a presentation last month at the North Harrison Community School Corp. Board of Trustees meeting.

Unfortunately, about half of the children who enter kindergarten are unprepared.

"They've never held a crayon; they can't tell their colors," he said. "It holds down the entire class."

About 40 states already provide some amount of funding for preschool. "Indiana is not one of them," Gilliland said.

That's why the Harrison County Community Foundation is funding the Jump Start Early Education Initiative that includes a five-year plan. The Jump Start funding offer is $10,000 per classroom for equipment and up to $120 per student — those who would be old enough to enter kindergarten the following year — for 36 weeks. The Foundation funding will only pay for students who meet free or reduced lunch eligibility requirements.

Using North Harrison as an example, Gilliland said allowing for 48 students would cost $207,360 a year during the five-year period. The school corporation would provide the transportation on regular bus routes for the preschoolers, he added.

"We would expect some kind of attendance policy," Gilliland said.

While 4-year-olds are likely unable to receive educational instruction for the entire school day, Gilliland said, to be successful, the program would need to be offered all day to allow parents to send their children without worrying about taking off work to drop them off or pick them up.

When not receiving instructional material, the beginning students can pick up other benefits, like social skills, while in a school setting.

The Foundation plans to make a similar offer to private child care providers who would agree to certain requirements, such as being properly licensed, enrolling in Paths to Quality and only if they bill the Foundation at their standard rate, Gilliland said.

According to research done by The PEW Center for the States, long-term studies show returns on human capital ranges from $7 to $17 for each dollar invested in quality early childhood education.

Gilliland said that school systems save up to $3,700 per student in grades kindergarten through 12. The savings also range from $2 to $11 per dollar invested in crime-related savings, he said.

"We're not the only community looking at this," Gilliland said of all-day preschool, citing the launch of a similar initiative in the Bloomington/Monroe County area.

Locally, New Middletown and Heth-Washington Elementary schools, two of four grade schools in the South Harrison Community School Corp., are on board. HWES has been offering half-day preschool for about four years now. NMES will begin offering all-day preschool in January.

Gilliland plans to make a presentation about the Foundation's Jump Start Early Education Initiative to the Harrison County Board of Commissioners on Monday. That meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Government Center in south Corydon.

For more information, call Gilliland at 738-6668.

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Corydon Democrat, 301 N. Capitol Ave., Corydon, IN 47112 1-812-738-2211 email