Vail launches preschool class

Great Start program to begin in summer to get children into school setting

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— The Vail Valley Foundation and the Eagle County School District on Thursday announced a new program intended to get local children into kindergarten ready to learn.

The program, called “Great Start,” will begin in summer. The idea is to give an opportunity to get used to a school setting to children who haven't been to a preschool yet.

The program will use teachers and classrooms at Avon, Gypsum and June Creek elementary schools between June 20 and Aug. 5. The program can accept as many as 195 students, with a target of 15 kids per classroom and a student-teacher ratio of 8:1.

The Great Start program will cost an estimated $250,000, which the foundation has agreed to underwrite. Students will be charged per day on a sliding scale based on annual household income. Fees will range from $2 to $25 per day.

Foundation President Ceil Folz said the program is an evolution of the group’s existing early-childhood programs, including the Magic Bus program and the “Success at Six” program that provides the opportunity for full-day kindergarten to every child entering the Eagle County School District.

Studies show that by fourth grade, there already are significant gaps in the achievement of black, Hispanic, and white children. Other studies show differences as early as the first grade.

Jeanne McQueeney, director of the county's Early Childhood Partners program, said children who don’t start kindergarten ready to learn affect the entire classroom.

Folz said teachers have told her that kids who aren’t accustomed to a school setting can sometimes take three months to get used to their new environment.

“That takes time away from other kids,” Folz said.

At the moment, there are approximately 400 local children between ages of 3 and 5 who aren’t in pre-kindergarten programs, McQueeney said. This first summer of Great Start is aimed only at the children who will start school this fall.

Folz said the idea for Great Start came from experience with other early childhood programs and work being done by the school district.

“The school district had already tried to expand into pre-kindergarten, but they just couldn't afford it,” Folz said. With that in mind, the idea for the Great Start program came from the Foundation’s education committee.

“We had one member say ‘Let's not just fill in the cracks — let's cover the floor,'” Folz said.

Besides getting children used to a school environment, parents with children in Great Start will be required to be involved through the “Family Literacy Project.” Once a child is enrolled in Great Start, parents become eligible for English as a Second Language courses and/or computer and parent education classes. All parents of Great Start students also will be required to participate in weekly Parents and Children Together sessions.

“There is no other district in the state that has this kind of support coming from an outside entity,” Eagle County School District Superintendent Sandra Smyser said. “We are extremely fortunate that the Vail Valley Foundation has enabled this district to put together this ongoing opportunity for our children.”

And, McQueeney said, today's early childhood programs will pay dividends down the road.

“These are our future leaders,” McQueeney said. “Setting them up for success today sets us up for success, too.”

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