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Column: Early childhood programs fueled for improvement

By TARA THOMPSON, District 518

WORTHINGTON — There have been two sentences that have come across my desk in the last few months that are music to my ears for the families/children of District 518 and 3- to 5-year olds. The first one was: Thank you for applying to Parent Aware; you have been approved for the 4-star rating! The second one was: I am pleased to inform you that your application for Pathway II — State Early Learning Scholarships has been officially approved by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).

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So, there should be two questions that come to your mind after reading the aforementioned sentences. The first one is: What is the 4-star rating? The second one is: What is the Pathway II Scholarship? I am very excited to share the answers to these questions with you.

The 4-Star Parent Aware Rating is the highest possible rating a program can achieve from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The District 518 School Readiness program received the 4-star rating. This rating is based on classrooms where School-based Pre K standards are implemented. The rating allows programs to accept scholarships for children who are eligible. If you are interested in learning more about the statewide rating system, please visit their site at

The Pathway II Scholarship allocation for District 518 is $92,745 for FY 2014. These scholarships are helping to ensure that every child has access to high-quality early education opportunities. Hopefully, these monies will help close the achievement gap and get students on the path to success through program expansions and enhancements.

Here is what this has meant for District 518. Programming has been offered to children in District 518 that have no early childhood experience and will be attending kindergarten in the fall of 2014. Sixty-four slots have been created for these children to have a three-hour, one-time-per week preschool experience.

In June, these children will also participate in the kindergarten transition class. This program will meet four days/week. Parent involvement is essential to building the foundation for school success. Parents will be offered kindergarten prep classes to include topics of readiness skills, registering for kindergarten and ways to help their children transition in to kindergarten. Program enhancements include students receiving school supplies packets and backpacks and improved classroom technology.

Another exciting piece for the scholarships is the ability for early education stakeholders to set up meetings to discuss kindergarten entrance assessments, transition activities, review of current practices, and proposals for implementation of items for the best interest of students and staff.

The governor and legislature have shown an incredible level of commitment to early learning through this scholarship funding. Now it is up to us to prove that the funding can make a huge difference in the lives of young children in our community.

Tara Thompson is District 518’s Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) and School Readiness Coordinator.