Three Mansfield elementary schools will have full-day pre-kindergarten classes this fall thanks to a state-funded grant. Long-term, the Mansfield school district is considering tuition-based pre-kindergarten classes at one or more centralized early childhood locations.
For now, Kenneth Davis, Glenn Harmon and D.P. Morris elementary schools will have one full-day pre-k class of 17 students each. The Mansfield school district received a $470,000 grant from the Texas Education Administration to pay for the three additional teachers and other administrative help.
This means more lessons, better preparation for full-day kindergarten and more recess, said Yvonne Devault, director of world languages and early childhood education.
“Three hours isn’t a lot of time to spend with kids,” Devault said. “That’s where they learn to solve problems. They get to socialize. All of pre-k is about language acquisition.”
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The $130 million High Quality Prekindergarten Program was approved by the Texas Legislature last year.
The Mansfield school district had 647 students enrolled in pre-k this year and expects to have more than 700 next year.
The district picked Davis and Harmon for full-day pre-k because they had the biggest need for improvement among the students, Devault said. The pre-k program at Morris will be bilingual to suit the Hispanic population at that school.
Pre-k, either half-day or full-day, is available to students from low-income families with limited English proficiency, homeless or foster children. Children of the military also qualify.
“They come in to school with gaps. That’s why it’s completely free,” Devault said.
Blanca Torres, a pre-k teacher at Erma Nash Elementary School, said she’s glad the district is trying full-day pre-k. Her bilingual class had a blast on the last day of school as Torres read to them and they participated in other activities. She said they are ready for kindergarten.
“A lot of kids that have different needs need to be identified early on,” Torres said. “If they don’t get help it affects them later on. You need to get kids early when they’re fresh and when their minds are still expanding to work language issues, motor issues and if they have special needs.”
The grant also pays for liaisons for the family to help immigrant parents who may not speak English.
“They can be learning with them as they grow,” Torres said. “I tell them, don’t give up. You can learn. But it’s a slow process.”
Erin Sheppard, who also teaches pre-k at Nash, agrees that more time would be helpful.
“Only having them for three hours you’re kind of limited in what you can introduce with their attention spans,” Sheppard said. “With that full day it opens up a lot more opportunities for them to learn and prepare for kindergarten.”
Looking to the future
Mansfield officials recently toured centralized pre-k facilities in Arlington, Dallas and Denton school districts to see some of the advantages of having a dedicated campus for the youngest students.
They saw separate libraries with bookshelves that are low to the ground, as well as nurses, reading specialists and counselors who specialize in early childhood education. Teachers can collaborate on best practices, too. Most campuses just have one or two pre-k teachers.
“You can see the advantages of having everything geared to pre-k rather than a pre-k through 4,” Devault said. “The pre-k gets lost a lot of times.”
The question is where to build it or should the district have more than one so parents don’t have to drive so far. That’s still to be determined.
“Our short goals do not include looking at an early childhood center, but it’s in our long-term goals,” Devault said.
The Mansfield school district could also add tuition-based pre-k programs so anyone could enroll their child in pre-k.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of research next,” Devault said. “The community has been asking for something. The board is aware of it.”