|Sun, Mar 09, 2014 09:21 AM
November 13, 2013 | 09:26 AM
Test scores for Harrison County public school students have been solidly above average and improving but still lag behind the leading schools in Indiana. The Harrison County Community Foundation hopes to play a major part in moving those scores ahead.
To do so, the Foundation aims to implement an early childhood education program beginning in January.
Steve Gilliland, Foundation president and CEO, presented the program Nov. 4 to the Harrison County Board of Commissioners.
Gilliland said studies demonstrate 85 percent of a child's brain growth happens by age 5. He said there's a trend, no matter the school or community it is in, that can be tracked like clockwork: those students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch, which typically are those who do not receive sufficient education before public school (kindergarten), will often score 10 to 20 percent lower than their peers on ISTEP testing.
"It doesn't matter where you live; if you get a rough start, you're very likely to struggle all the way through," Gilliland said.
So, the Foundation's Jump Start Early Education Initiative will provide up to $10,000 per classroom for equipment and up to $120 per student for all-day preschool for 36 weeks ($4,300 per year per child).
Children eligible to enroll in kindergarten the following year can participate, but the Foundation will only fund those at-risk students identified by the schools.
While 4-year-olds are likely unable to receive educational instruction for the entire school day, Gilliland said, to be successful and reach more kids, the program would need to be offered all day to allow parents to send their children without the worry of taking off work in the middle of the day to drop them off or pick them up.
When not receiving instructional material, the beginning students will pick up other benefits, like social skills, while in a school setting, he said.
"We're pushing very hard for this to be a full-day experience," Gilliland said.
New Middletown Elementary School will begin the program in January. Heth-Washington Elementary has been offering a half-day preschool for four years and the results have been impressive, Gilliland said.
The Foundation plans to make a similar offer to faith-based and private preschool 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.
He said the biggest issue with the program is space. Most public schools have little extra room to be used for a day-long program, especially at the Corydon campus. He said it's possible the YMCA of Harrison County and area churches could be involved to help with the space issue.
Gilliland said the initiative is one of four areas the Foundation plans to enhance in the county as part of its strategic plan from 2012. The other three are high-speed Internet (working closely with the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County and economic development), sustainability of the county's nonprofit organizations and adult education.
In other business last week, the board of commissioners are now looking at property currently owned by Vulcan Lands Inc. for a new Harrison County Highway Dept. garage. The property is along S.R. 135 between Old S.R. 135 and S.R. 135 near Vulcan's quarry south of Corydon. It marks the third site county officials have looked at for the facility, with the previous two (Harrison County Solid Waste site and a site along S.R. 135 near this new option) falling through.
The current facility, in the Harrison County Business Park north of Corydon, lacks the space needed to adequately and efficiently perform the department's duties, officials said.
As if there hasn't been enough road improvements and traffic deterring in downtown Corydon, Harrison County Engineer Kevin Russel said the state soon plans to replace the west bridge on S.R. 62.
The commissioners next meeting will be Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Government Center in south Corydon.