Sitting still, paying attention and knowing letters and numbers are essential skills for kindergarten readiness. With the opening of the Hamilton Early Learning Center August 29, up to 120 more four year olds in Hamilton will be prepared for kindergarten.
Suzanne Prescott, director of early childhood programs for Butler County Educational Service Center, said that the new Learning Center fills a need for more preschools in Hamilton, at the same time state funding for preschool is declining. “The Foundation and United Way pulled together with Butler County Educational Services Center and the Hamilton City Schools to see what could be done to provide more preschool in Hamilton,” she says.
The Foundation committed $35,000 of its resources dedicated to Strategic Educational Initiatives to fund a building expansion of existing classrooms at downtown Hamilton’s Presbyterian Church. In addition, Suzanne said that the Consortium for Ongoing Reinvestment Efforts (CORE) was instrumental in providing major construction to create three new classrooms. Hamilton City Schools stepped up to provide free transportation, eliminating a barrier to student attendance.
“Through serious communication and collaboration, a partnership was formed allowing this opportunity to occur. That is the value of partnership, and now the value of preschool will reach many more families,” said Kathy Klink, of the Foundation’s education committee.
The preschool is free, filling a niche for students with families whose income is higher than Head Start requires yet are still unable to afford preschool (families in the program must be up to 200 percent of the poverty level). Both morning and afternoon sessions are offered, and a staff of 14 includes the site manager, teachers, assistant teachers and a social worker. “We focus on working with the entire family,” said Carrie Robinson, site manager of the Learning Center.
“Ninety percent of brain development happens in the first five years of life,” says Suzanne. “If we are going to have a population that is ready to work and build the economy of Hamilton, we have to start early in preschool.”
“We’ve done a lot of research and we know and understand the value of preschool,” added Kathy.
In 2012, the State Board of Education adopted Ohio’s Early Learning and Development Standards in all domains of school readiness to reflect the comprehensive development of children beginning at birth to kindergarten entry. With the purpose of supporting the development and well-being of young children and to foster their learning, preschool programs have been determined to support early learning. Carrie adds that preschool is vital in the early identification of issues that provide barriers to learning. Since the preschool’s opening this year, three children have already been referred to speech therapy services at the Hamilton Public Schools. The staff has seen other progress, too. “The students have grown by leaps and bounds,” says Carrie.
“During preschool, we provide 50 percent of the children’s daily nutritional needs, which is vital for them to develop and grow,” adds Suzanne. Students are also sent home weekly with new learning activities to do with their parents.