Pre-K for All Expands Access to Early Learning

Encore: April 15, 2015

New York’s ambitious pre-kindergarten program – now called Pre-K For All – is one of Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s top priorities. In its first year, the city offered 53,000 seats for four-year-olds at no cost to their families.

Plenty of parents continue to pay for preschool programs, but the city wants to be sure no child is left out. Andrea Vasquez visited a program to report on the plans to expand this model for early learning.

Our story is part of American Graduate, a project made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities find ways to keep students on the path to graduation.

Twins Ruby and Myla started pre-school at Boys and Girls Harbor in East Harlem as three-year-olds. They know the basic shapes now, they know all the colors and all the numbers. These are all skills they need to know entering kindergarten.

Next school year – as four-year-olds – they’ll qualify for free seats in the city’s Pre-K For All program. The goal is to enroll 70,000 four-year-olds in pre-Ks at public schools, daycares and community-based organizations.

“When I arrived at the Harbor in 2011 we were running essentially daycare programming here and one of the things that we wanted to do in 2011 was build a program that would build kindergarten readiness in students,” said Pamela Terry, chief academic officer of Boys and Girls Harbor. “And so Boys and Girls Harbor was ahead of the curve in terms of transforming programming and taking a look at Common Core standards and preparing students for kindergarten.”

“A lot of parents have said that if it wasn’t for UPK Free for All, they wouldn’t have sent them, at least not this year, they would have waited for kindergarten,” added Stella Papageorgiou, head teacher at Boys & Girls Harbor.

Parents of next year’s four-year-olds are getting ready to enroll. They have questions and they’re looking for answers at city-sponsored events and informational sessions hosted by other groups like The New School and education website

“Because they have so many different places for kids to go, different kinds of places, trying to get a seat is much more complicated than just going to your neighborhood school and signing up,” said Clara Hemphill, founding editor of Insideschools.

“It’s not going to be that everybody gets their absolute top choice, that doesn’t happen in any part of the K-12 system, but we do think we’ll be able to work with families to find something that works for them,” said Josh Wallack, chief strategy officer at the Department of Education.

Pre-K is optional, but education experts and city officials see this as a way to reduce income inequality by offering pre-K to families who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

“As a system and as a city, we believe that if many children participated in full-day pre-K, we’ll be launching them all for success in school and in life,” said Wallack. “And it really does provide a strong foundation for the city as a whole.”

Parents are also learning that, unlike some daycare and half-day programs, Pre-K For All requires a full six-hour and 20-minute school day.

“Before a student can go into a kindergarten, there are a lot of basic skills that kids need to know and one of the most critical areas is literacy and vocabulary,” said Terry. “And kids going into public schools today, many of them are already experiencing an academic gap.”

The hope is that Pre-K For All will help jump start students on the path to graduation.


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