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RSU 16 budget would expand Pre-K education
MINOT — RSU 16 administrators are asking residents of Mechanic Falls, Minot, and Poland to expand the School Unit's Pre-K program, a change which is part of a state-wide move toward increased early education.
According to the Maine Department of Education, 178 out of 556 elementary schools in the state had programs for four-year-olds in 2010-11. That number has increased steadily from 84 in 2004 and 109 in 2007.
Poland Community School and Elm Street School in Mechanic Falls, two of RSU 16's three elementary schools, have been running programs for the last two years. The programs have been open to students from all three towns. If the 2011-12 budget is passed, Minot Consolidated School will be the location of a third program.
"Our numbers continue to grow," said Superintendent Dennis Duquette. "... A third four-year-old program in Minot will allow us to serve more kids. We've got 65 kids in the program right now and 18 on the waiting list and we haven't even advertised."
Duquette said district officials anticipate 90 enrollees in the upcoming year's class. Each school will run two half-day programs Monday to Thursday with 15 children apiece.
Early reviews from the district's kindergarten teachers have all been positive, says Duquette.
"[The teachers] are amazed at their abilities. Academically they're advanced, as well as socially and emotionally," he said. "It's very noticeable for the kindergarten teachers."
A 2010 national study from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that education for four-year-olds increases performance in reading, writing, and vocabulary when entering kindergarten.
Kathy Elkins, Curriculum Director of SAD 17, which includes Norway, Paris, Oxford, and the surrounding towns, has had a similar Pre-K program for four years now, and their results have been positive.
"We've seen significantly increased academic performance" said Elkins. "I can tell you that, this current year in writing, and knowing letters, the students who participated in our Pre-K program scored higher than the general population of students entering kindergarten."
Duquette also foresees long-term benefits from the program. Making sure students are up-to-date at a young age has been a factor in ensuring that they are successful throughout their academic careers.
"The kids are actually starting younger. It allows us to reach them quicker," said Duquette. "By grade three, if a student is not on grade level in reading, writing mathematics, research shows that they will struggle for the rest of their educational career, so the earlier you can catch these kids, the earlier you can get them on-line, the better."
The cost to the district in the upcoming budget is $67,000, including instructors and supplies. Over time, however, Duquette says that having Pre-Kindergarten programs in place will save the district money by increasing pupil counts, which factor into the state's funding formula, and reducing the number of students who require special attention to stay caught up.
"It will save money as far as having to catch kids up," said Duquette, adding that, as students enter high school, being caught up will help them stay engaged. "One of the biggest positives is that it's one of the biggest preventers of high school drop-outs. Students drop out for a number of reasons but one of the biggest is, they get frustrated academically. Either they can't read, they can't write or they can't keep pace as they get older."
"It's not a cure-all but it's one more step. [It helps answer] 'How do you give students a jump-start, how do you give them a head start, how do you catch their learning needs earlier... and ideally correct those needs before they fall behind?'"