Class

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - LO­CAL NEWS -

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.

EMILY OVERDORF — FOR MEDIANEWS GROUP

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.

EMILY OVERDORF — FOR MEDIANEWS GROUP

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.

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