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Pre-k serves education need

By Staff
Terry R. Cassreino / Assistant Managing Editor
May 25, 2003
Joshua Reed and Ah'Kenya Lard didn't hesitate when asked what they want to do now that they've graduated: Reed wants to be a pastor, Lard wants to be a dentist.
But besides the years of specialized schooling both jobs require, Reed and Lard also face many more of intense classroom work. Why? Because the 5-year-olds just graduated from prekindergarten.
Meridian has had a pre-k program since 1997, when the first class opened at Oakland Heights. Today, four city schools Crestwood, Witherspoon, West End and Oakland Heights have pre-k programs.
Pre-k has been an huge success, readying students for kindergarten and beyond. Don't believe it? Talk to Meridian School Superintendent Janet McLin, who calls pre-k a major achievement of her administration.
McLin points to data the Meridian school district has compiled during the past six years, showing that students who began in pre-k are less likely to be absent from school or repeat a grade.
The data also shows those students perform better in reading, language and math; score better on standardized achievement tests; and have a better chance of entering the school district's gifted program.
And, McLin said, none of it would be possible if not for the federal money that pays salaries for the pre-k teachers, pays salaries for the teacher assistants and provides some of the pre-k classroom materials.
Meridian's success
Meridian's success, widely known statewide, raises a key question: Should the state fund pre-k across Mississippi, ensuring that all students have access to crucial early childhood education?
The answer isn't simple not in a state with a long history of inadequately funding public education from the kindergarten through the community college and university levels.
Remember: This was the first year state lawmakers funded public education at the start of their three-month annual session instead of waiting for the waning days after they funded other agencies first.
State funding for pre-k would require united support among education and elected leaders, as well as a reliable source of cash all at a time when weak revenues have resulted in state agency budget cuts.
Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, a staunch supporter of early childhood education, believes an in-depth assessment of pre-k and school readiness programs across Mississippi will help increase support for state funding.
She's probably right. A special committee charged with completing that assessment must report its findings to the Legislature by Jan. 15.
As for actual funding, Tuck said, that remains unclear. It will depend on a cost estimate from the committee, as well as the fiscal health of the state when lawmakers return in regular session next year.
Strong support
In Meridian, support already is in place from educators to many parents. Meridian offers pre-k to any child who lives in the attendance area served by the four schools offering the program.
The pre-k program is far from a babysitting service. By the time children graduate, they know their colors, shapes, alphabet letters and key social skills. Some also will know how to write their name.
And, like Reed, Lard and the others who graduated this month from pre-k, they leave the nine-month experience with a better understanding of themselves and increased self confidence.
Reed, Lard and other children may change their work plans, but they'll always have that strong educational base which educators say underlines the value of funding the program from a state level.

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