Pre-K earns national acclaim

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 13, 2012

RLES Auxiliary Teacher Leola Poindexter reads a book to the Pre-K class.

Red Level Elementary School’s 18 pre-kindergarten students are among the 6 percent of Alabama 4-year-olds who are able to take advantage of the state-provided pre-K program.

A nationwide report released Tuesday called Alabama’s program one of the best quality pre-K programs in the country, but said that the state struggles to offer the program to enough children.

“The State of Preschool 2011,” which is a yearly study conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), found that Alabama’s program, First Class, successfully meets or exceeds all 10 of the benchmarks for excellence in pre-kindergarten studies.

Alabama is one of only five states that met all 10 benchmarks, which include early learning standards, student-teacher ratio and teacher education.

Rhode Island, Georgia, North Carolina and Alaska were the other four.

RLES Principal Rodney Drish called the school’s program a “must.”

“The students who go through this program are more prepared,” he said. “We have only 18 students in our class. The program is funded by the state, and we have an 18-student cap, so we have to draw names.”

Statewide, the picture is the same. Only 3,870 of Alabama’s 4-year-olds were enrolled in the pre-K program during the 2010-2011 school year, the study said.

That’s a figure that landed Alabama at 33rd in the nation.

There are 11 states that do not have a state pre-K program, and six others had a lower percentage of participants than Alabama.

“The only downfall to the program is that we can’t allow all to take part,” Drish said. “We would love to be able to accept more children because those that are in the program are way more ahead of the kids that come from home.”

Drish said that Red Level pre-K and kindergarten teachers communicate, which allows the students to better adapt when making the transition to elementary school.

“And with these kids being on our campus, they already feel like they are apart of our school,” he said.

RLES had participated in the program for the last nine years, Drish said.

Statewide, the program only receives $17.8 million per year from the state, and there are 215 state-funded sites in Alabama.

According to the state’s office of School Readiness, the only other state-funded pre-K program in Covington County is at Guilford Tiny Tots Daycare and Learning in Andalusia.