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Officials visit Toyland to celebrate Pre-K success

City and state officials joined students and teachers at Toyland Daycare in Andalusia to celebrate the success of the Alabama Pre-Kindergarten program with a cake and ice cream party.

"The fundamental purpose of these programs is to give Alabama's children a quality, early learning experience to prepare them for continued success in school," Siegelman said. "We've sent our team to ensure that these programs are equipped with the knowledge, support and training vital for educational development that is more responsive to young children's needs."

The Pre-K sites are coordinated by DCA's Office of School Readiness (OSR), created by Siegelman in 2000. Shortly after being elected governor, Siegelman created the cabinet-level DCA and gave its commissioner a mandate to develop a plan for early learning.

Currently, OSR funds 71 Pre-K sites in 64 counties and is working with the remaining three counties to establish sites by next fall. Pre-K programs are funded at $75,000 per site and are located in public schools, child care centers, Headstart centers, colleges and universities, churches and housing authorities.

"We have technical representatives who come and work with the teachers," said Pam Baker, commissioner of the state department of children's affairs. "We don't just build classrooms and move on. We ensure that each child who takes part in this program receives quality education. This level of education, for the most part, does not exist for most 4-year-olds and it doesn't cost the parents anything."

Baker and Millie Dorman, acting director of OSR, discussed details with local program officials at Toyland Daycare and Learning Center regarding school readiness, parental involvement, curriculum and training, all of which are vital to making children's educational journeys successful

"Three out of every five children are in some kind of structured early learning program, and research clearly shows that quality preschool has a lasting, positive impact on children's well-being, as well as on their ability to learn. Voluntary, high-quality preschool leads to meaningful improvements in many aspects of life," Baker said. "Too many of Alabama's children are missing the opportunity for a quality preschool experience. and it is our goal to change that and to give all of Alabama's children a chance to succeed."

OSR is designed to ensure a voluntary, quality Pre-K experience for every four year-old at no cost to parents. OSR offers grants to qualified educational facilities that meet specified guidelines and undergo a competitive grant process. These guidelines include licensure by the Alabama Department of Human Resources, four-year-degree certified teachers and qualified assistants, at least 18 children in a classroom, parental and/or family enrichment components, approved curriculum and participation in OSR training.

OSR provides technical assistance to monitor progress and to provide guidance to the Pre-K program sites. Technical assistance includes teacher and student performance evaluations,

program development, continuous workshops and training and mentoring. OSR site visits occur at least three times each year.

During the next several weeks, Baker and Dorman will travel across the state, conducting similar visits at the remaining sites.

"Robert and I thank God to be chosen to serve our children in all the communities of the city of Andalusia," said Patricia Daniels, chairman of Toyland Daycare. "Gov. Siegelman is making it possible for all 4- and 5-year-old children to attend pre-school before entering kindergarten, no matter what their financial status may be. In this program, children mean more than money. This is truly a wonderful program. It takes good leadership like the Office of School Readiness, qualified teachers, concerned parents and a supportive community to succeed in this program.

"We thank everyone on our task force for their input in helping the program to be a success," she said. "We would especially like to thank the Speaker of the House, Mr. Seth Hammett, Mr. Joe Nix, co-chairman of our executive committee, Will Sconiers, former city councilman

(adviser), Mr. Calten Bryant and the Andalusia Elementary School."

The Alabama OSR was created by Alabama Legislature in May 2000 to provide Alabama's 4-year-olds with effective early childhood experiences that prepare them for school. A major goal of OSR is to provide free, quality pre-kindergarten education by enhancing existing pre-kindergarten opportunities and establishing new programs throughout Alabama.

The school operates Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and follows the same schedule as Andalusia's school system.

Children at Toyland Daycare receive quality education from Kathy Chesser, head teacher; Apryl Staley, assistant teacher; and Velma Jowers, alternate teacher.

Each child must be four years old on or before September 1 and reside in Covington County to be eligible to apply to OSR.

Each site is required to meet certain requirements before it may become a certified OSR. Each OSR site must have:

A minimum capacity of 18 children who are 4-years-old on or before September 1.

Adequate classroom space (approximately 35 square feet per child).

Accessible water and toilet facilities.

Access to an appropriate playground.

A certified teacher and qualified assistant who has undergone the necessary criminal background checks.

A curriculum that meets the National Association for the Education of Young Children Guidelines.

Family enrichment and participation programs.

An ability to provide 175 days, 6.5 hours daily, of appropriate children's programs.

A collaborative task force to guide and contribute to the local pre-kindergarten program.