NW Iowa counties among those slated for preschool grants

DES MOINES, Iowa-- School districts in Dickinson, Lyon and Osceola counties are among 150 Iowa districts that will be served by the final installment of Gov. Chet Culver's preschool grant program.

DES MOINES, Iowa-- School districts in Dickinson, Lyon and Osceola counties are among 150 Iowa districts that will be served by the final installment of Gov. Chet Culver's preschool grant program.

Spirit Lake Community School District, Central Lyon Community School District, West Lyon Community School District and Sibley-Ocheyedan School District were selected to participate in the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program for 4-Year-Old Children, first established in May 2007.

"Four years ago when I was elected, I promised Iowa's families a voluntary preschool program," Culver said in a news release Wednesday. "This program helps to ensure that 22,000 Iowa 4-year-olds will have the opportunity to have a quality preschool experience that will be the springboard for success in school, the workplace and life."

After this installment of Culver's four-year, $60-million program, it is projected a total of 21,354 children will be served in 326 school districts statewide.

"We have heard from parents whose children attend the 4-year-old program that their son or daughter is ready to learn and take the next step to kindergarten," Iowa Department of Education Acting Director Kevin Fangman said in a news release. "Establishing quality program standards, such as having a licensed teacher in the classroom, is essential to this program."


The program funding will allow the awarded districts -- in collaboration with community partners and private providers -- to offer at least 10 hours per week of preschool instruction.

"We are going to work with the hospital, who currently runs the Bright Beginnings preschool in the elementary building, to help facilitate implementation of this grant," explained Sibley-Ocheyedan superintendant Jeff Herzberg.

The preschool staff and students will become employees and students of the district, and the preschool will be open to any child who turns 4 years of age by Sept. 15.

Herzberg said Bright Beginnings currently serves about 30 students, and that number is expected to increase.

"The research is very clear that when we spend ($1) on early childhood education and high quality early childhood education, that saves up to $17 ... on other costs, whether it be the juvenile justice system or the welfare system. So this is a great investment in the future of our kids and our communities," he said.

Herzberg and Sibley-Ocheyedan Elementary Principal Cory Jenness have been tracking the academic progress of local students with and without preschool education for about five years.

"We're finding what every school's probably finding: those kids who come to school having a preschool experience tend to be more successful as they go through the elementary grades," Jenness said. "They receive less help with reading services and things like that because they're more independent learners."

He said the program should also level the playing field for all students entering kindergarten. Though the population of Sibley includes about 10 percent ethnic minorities, not one is currently enrolled at Bright Beginnings.


"Any kid can now come here for absolutely free," Jenness continued. "When you get to kindergarten, you're not going to see a great big gap in ability and social skills like there is now; they'll be more on the same level. ... All kids will benefit from it."

National research also shows children who have participated in a quality preschool program have better language and math skills and better cognitive and social skills than do children in lower-quality settings. Evaluations have also found children in high-quality programs were less likely to drop out of school, repeat grades, or get into future trouble with the law.

The estimated amount of funding that each district will receive the first year is based on approximately 37 percent of kindergarten enrollment from October 2009. The funding for the first year comes from an appropriation from the state Legislature. After the first year, the program will receive state funding based on the number of students in the program.

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