Not long ago, on a snowy morning in late March, Granger elementary hosted its high-quality preschool registration day. As the Community School Coordinator at Granger, and a committed early education advocate, I offered my assistance in making photos copies, translating for Spanish speaking parents, and generally doing what I could to help out. I also distributed a parent survey to get a clear picture of the early education opportunities the incoming preschoolers had prior to signing up so we can make the most informed decisions going forward (if you have read my blog posts previously, you know how committed I am to collecting data and ensuring our interventions are data driven, so this probably comes as no surprise!).
The event was supposed to last for one hour, with families coming in, taking a number, and being enrolled on a first come, first serve basis. This did happen, and in fact went pretty seamlessly. But I can assure you, after one hour–we had yet to enroll half of the families that came that day.
Late March was not long after the close of the legislative session here in Utah, and as I worked with all of the parents to enroll their children, I couldn’t help but think of the high-quality preschool expansion bill put forth by Senator Osmond, SB71 (crafted in part by United Way and Voices for Utah Children), and the opposition it received by many legislators and citizens. You see, when it comes to closing the achievement gap between low income kids and their middle and upper income peers, we know what works: high-quality preschool. When it comes to helping low income kids start school ready and keep up with their middle and upper income peers throughout school and later in life, we know what works: high-quality preschool.
It struck me that day that someone else knows the importance of high-quality preschool for low income kids: their parents. For two and a half hours, I saw parents come in, wet from a long walk in the snow, with kids bundled in jackets or tucked under blankets in strollers, many running quickly back to their house to get the right proof of address bill or immunization form, all to help their kids get into high-quality preschool and do better in school and life. But the problem was, there wasn’t enough room. The last third of the children were put on a waiting list. That day, twice as many families showed up compared to what was expected and there simply wasn’t enough space available. While Granger is a big school, it has limited preschool capacity, exactly what the preschool bill was trying to fix.
To be honest, I am still not sure why some people object to the idea of increasing high-quality preschool capacity in schools. Preschool is something a parent enrolls in if they are interested, just like swimming lessons or the boy scouts–something they do only if they think it is the right choice for their child. High-quality preschool also helps build a system that supports us all and that changes the odds for those that need it most. So, while we didn’t succeed this year, we’ll do our best to expand high-quality preschool next year, making the case on behalf of these kids and their parents. In the meantime, thanks to everyone who worked tirelessly on the bill and legislative push. I am confident the effort will not go unrewarded.