the Economy League, said Pottstown was chosen as a case study because it has been on the forefront of early education since 1989 when it implement half-day Pre-K classes in all its elementary schools.
More recently, for the last 13 years, that effort has fallen under the umbrella of PEAK, Pottstown Early Action for Kingergarten Readiness, spearheaded by former schools superintendent Jeff Sparagana, who was on hand and called the effort “a unique partnership” between the school district and larger community.
“It more than life-changing work,” Sparagana said of public education. “It’s lifesaving work.”
In 2007, the state jumped into the game with a program called Pre-K Counts and because of Pottstown’s existing program, provided 108 slots for low-income children. By 2015, it had grown to 220 slots and is now more than 300 full-day slots.
According to the Economy League information, “children who participated in Pre-K Counts were less likely to need intensive literacy support” in 2017.
“Research from 2016 found that children who participated in PEAK’s prekindergarten programs performed better than the district average on literacy assessments when they arrived in kindergarten and each subsequent year through third grade,” according to the Economy League data.
The program also made it easier for the business community to get involved in supporting education, said Hornstein, pointing to support for the district’s STEM curriculum from the chemical giant Dow.
“You have created a replicable, scalable model in Pottstown that other districts can emulate,” he said.
State Rep. Joe Ciresi, D146th dist., said early education programs lead to “better retention in attendance and a higher percentage of children moving on to secondary and college careers.”
State Sen, Katie Muth, D44th Dist., said public education is a bi-partisan issue and when budget time comes around “there are certain things which should not be on the chopping block.”
The program benefits
more than just the students in the classroom.
Na’imah Rhodes, a single mother of two children, said the program “was so beneficial to my family. It provided free, quality education and allowed me to work at making things better for family.”
That work, as it turns out, is being a teacher in Pottstown High School where she teaches high school students how to be early education teachers by having them work in a working PreK classroom.
And that allows the children to see more “male figures and minorities in the classroom.”
One of those students, Grace Bainbridge, told the group “I like working with the kids and seeing how they grow through education.”
Valerie Jackson, Pottstown’s PEAK Director, said the program has held meetings with parents, including bi-lingual meetings, to increase parent engagement with their child’s education from the very beginning.
Jeff Hornstein, executive director of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, speaks at a panel Thursday about findings that show Pottstown Early Action for Kindergarten Readiness, PEAK, has improved students’ academic and social school readiness.
State Sen. Katie Muth, D-44th Dist., talks with children in one of Pottstown’s Pre-K classes after a Thursday event promoting the value of early education.