HOPE — Hope Elementary School is looking for funding to pay for preschool for prospective kindergartners who have yet to set foot in a classroom.

At Hope Elementary this year, 87 percent of the 45 children currently enrolled in the school’s three kindergarten classes attended preschool, while eight had not.

A check of the incoming class for this fall indicates as many as another 10 students will enter kindergarten this fall without preschool preparation.

As Flat Rock Hawcreek School Corp. works to maintain a top grade in the state’s A-F accountability system, Superintendent Kathy Griffey said preschool is one way to push students toward academic excellence.

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Money should not be as an obstacle, she said. 

While school officials have been unable to raise funds for preschool assistance through traditional means such as philanthropic foundations, a number of individuals and business in Hope have offered to help, the superintendent said.  

“There’s enough commitment in this community that I’m sure we can find the funding — if we can just find the children,” the superintendent said.

In neighboring Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., a much larger district, a public referendum to provide preschool education to children of families who meet income guidelines has failed twice in the past three years. It, too, is seeking new revenue streams to subsidize tuition for more low-income students.

Enough capacity

The Community Center of Hope, which has operated one of two community-recognized preschools since 2006, has enough capacity to handle about half of the students who are being targeted for preschool, center executive director Chelsea Kendall said.

It would be a great problem to have if most of the youngsters identified by the school corporation decided to enroll in preschool, Griffey said.

The Morning Star program at Hope Moravian Church’s preschool should be able to accommodate a sudden influx of students, she said.

Although available openings at Morning Star fluctuate, the faith-based program does offer financial aid to families under certain guidelines, according to the Morning Star website.  

Half of the center’s current 15 preschoolers receive financial assistance, and the organization has sliding fees based on household income, Kendall said.     

The challenge appears to be a number of parents who choose to keep their kids at home until kindergarten, according to both Griffey and Kendall.

For example, parents of emotionally or physically challenged children may feel that’s best for their child, Hope resident Todd Drake said.

But there are also parents who don’t realize the kindergarten curriculum has changed dramatically since they were 5 years old, Griffey said.   

“Our whole culture has changed from just 20 years ago,” the FHSC superintendent said. “We now expect an awful lot in our early grades.”

Building a foundation

Abby and Leah Manley entered Stacy Kirk’s kindergarten class at Hope Elementary after attending the Morning Star program.  

Prior to kindergarten, the twin sisters already knew all 26 letters of the alphabet and could count to 10 — both forward and backward, 5-year-old Abby said.

For children who don’t have that foundation, or experience a classroom in a group setting, the beginning of kindergarten can seem overwhelming to a 5-year-old, Kendall said.  

“Kids in pre-K and preschool have those experiences early on, giving them the confidence and encouragement to get out there and experience different things,” Kendall said.

Some parents believe they can overcome any academic disadvantages of not attending preschool by working with their child at home, Griffey said. 

But with increasing work demands, the needs of other children in the household, and varying responsibilities, parents often encounter disruptions in their well-intentioned plans over the long-term, the superintendent said.  

The entire kindergarten class suffers when teachers have to deal with a wide range of student readiness, the superintendent said.

Federal funding available at Hope Elementary provides grade-school children falling behind their classmates individual attention twice a day. 

However, funding for these federal programs has gradually decreased in recent years, Kirk said.

As a result, a number of schools in larger communities such as Columbus are now seeking alternative funding sources.

However, it is difficult to raise large amounts of money in small town like Hope, school principal Lisa Smith said.

What preschool can do

One of the most important benefits of preschool is that it provides vocabulary development and motivates young children to express whole concepts, Kirk and Griffey said.

For example, students who have been to preschool are better prepared to ask a question, listen for an answer, provide feedback, and sound out letters, Kirk said.

The preschool experience also gives young children an introduction to solving problems on their own, as well as interacting with children of different ages, Kendall said.

Studies show that human beings develop much of their vocabulary during the first three to four years of life, the superintendent said.

“If we don’t have that vocabulary development by the time that we are 5, it’s almost impossible for a human being then to make that up at some point later in life,” Griffey said.

While computer programs and educational television can contribute to this type of child development, they will never take the place of one-on-one social encounters, Griffey said.

“There’s a place for technology, but it can’t replace human interaction,” Griffey said.

Hope preschools

There are two community-recognized preschools in Hope. Parents may call either organization to inquire about current openings, financial assistance or possible alternatives. 

Community Center of Hope

543 Washington St., Hope

Half-day session Monday through Friday (8 a.m. to noon) – $55 a week

Full-day session (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) – $80 a week

Full-day plus child care (6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.) – $105 a week

Information:  812-546-4499

Morning Star at the Hope Moravian Church

202 Main St., Hope

Half-day sessions for 4-year-olds Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.) – $105 a week.  

Information: 812-390-7117.   

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.