Two states offer varying degrees of pre-K classes

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 13, 2004

Louisiana and Mississippi represent polar ends of the pre-kindergarten spending scale in United States, yet local educators on both sides of the river want the same thing &045; more money.

A November review by The National Institute for Early Education Research ranked Louisiana 10th in the nation in pre-K spending while Mississippi, one of 12 states with no state-funded program, was labeled a &uot;dirty dozen&uot; state.

Concordia Parish schools offer eight pre-K classes, two paid for by the state and five paid for federally.

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The Natchez-Adams School District offers five pre-K classes, two of which are federally funded through Head Start, one federally funded through Title I funds and the remaining are tuition-based.

Vidalia Lower Elementary School teacher Karen Weeks has been teaching pre-K students for 11 years and said it is amazing to see what a child can learn at that age.

&uot;We are providing them with an experience they would not otherwise get at home,&uot; Weeks said. &uot;When they get to kindergarten they are used to it, what is usually an obstacle is not one for them.&uot;

Natchez’ Frazier Primary three- and four-year-old teacher Kirby Watts, who teaches a Head Start class, said pre-K education should be mandatory just like kindergarten.

&uot;These are the years where they absorb everything,&uot; Watts said. &uot;Whatever I present to them they can learn. Any kids who come from pre-K to kindergarten pretty much know all the kindergarten skills.&uot;

All Miss-Lou pre-K programs have a screening process that tests the child’s motor skills, concepts and language skills. Several of the programs give preference to low-income children or special needs children.

Schools on both sides of the river have waiting lists and have turned children away.

Concordia Parish officials said most children who qualify are accepted though. The parish also offers a Head Start program, which is not blended with the school district like the one in Natchez.

Superintendent Kerry Laster said the district was looking into adding one more pre-K class but would have to wait and see if the funding comes from the state.

The Louisiana Department of Education also offers additional state funding for pre-K through the La4 program, but Concordia Parish does not qualify and did not apply for those funds.

Week’s classroom has 20 students, a number she says is too high, and one teacher assistant. The class and the teachers’ salaries are funded by the state.

Though the students participate in a reading program, go to a science center and keep portfolios on their language and writing skills, Weeks said the most important things they learn in the classroom is social skills.

&uot;They have formal instruction and learn to work in a group,&uot; she said. &uot;They have someone read to them and we do conflict resolution all day long.&uot;

Frazier Primary Principal Lorraine Franklin said she’s seen pre-K students repeatedly excel when they get to kindergarten and first-grade.

&uot;I wish every child could go to pre-K,&uot; Franklin said. &uot;We’ve already been swamped with calls about registration for next year. I would love to have another section.&uot;

Watts, whose children know everything from their address to the governor of Mississippi, said she uses songs to teach much of the material. The four-year-olds are required by state Head Start regulations to master letters, sounds, seasons, personal information and numbers among other things.

West Primary also has one pre-K class composed of Head Start and tuition-paid students.