Picayune School District preschool maintains high standards

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, April 24, 2018

According to a recent nationwide study by the National Institute for Early Education Research, Mississippi’s state-funded preschool program continues to provide a high quality education to local children.

Mississippi has a small but growing preschool program. In 2013, the Early Collaborative Act was signed into law to improve the state’s preschool program.

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“The Early Collaborative Act of 2013 provides funding to local communities to establish, expand and support successful early childhood education and development services,” the Mississippi First website states.

According to the website, this program started with $3 million in funding. This funding was put toward an initial 11 early learning collaborative education programs. Since 2013, the number of programs has grown to 14, the website states. The Picayune School District is a state-funded collaborative.

Picayune early childhood program director Dr. Pamela Thomas said that before the funding was available, families had to rely on head start programs for their children. Because these programs have an income limit, Thomas said there was a gap in education opportunities for families that earned more than the limit. Now that the state is providing funding for preschool programs, Thomas said the Picayune School District has been able to create a pre-k program for children of every background.

Thomas said the District currently has two programs for preschool students, one for 3-year-olds, which has 45 slots available each year, and one for 4-year-olds, which has 60 slots. Thomas said to provide this number of openings; the District relies on both state and private funding. The Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation provides a great deal of funding to the preschool programs, Thomas said.

While enrollment numbers may be low in Mississippi, programs across the state have worked hard to maintain a high level of quality, the NIEER study states. According to the study, Mississippi meets 10/10 of the current quality benchmarks, and will meet 9/10 of the new quality benchmarks to be put into effect next year.

Thomas said there are two key steps the Picayune School District takes to ensure it provides the best education possible.

First, Thomas said teachers are carefully screened to make sure the most qualified instructors are hired. She said having a lot of prior training and hands-on experience is very important – especially since preschool is a vital time in a child’s development.

“We make sure our teachers are equipped and ready,” Thomas said.

Besides hiring the best teachers, Thomas said the District maintains a research-based curriculum. She said specialized assessments are used to determine how well children are absorbing the material. The outcomes are then studied and used to decide which activities and materials are effective.

Early childhood programs have improved significantly over the years and provide many benefits to young children.

According to an article by the Journal of Research in Childhood Education, “There is considerable evidence that a high-quality preschool education creates improved life outcomes.”

Thomas said preschool programs help children prepare for the social and environmental aspects of attending kindergarten and elementary school. She said students who were placed in preschool programs at an early age tend to score better on 3rd grade assessments statewide.

“Early childhood education is important,” Thomas said.

She said that early education gives children more learning opportunities, provides a better school experience and helps children as they progress through the school system.