District 51 preschoolers close to peers

Colorado students enrolled in free preschool programs such as those offered by School District 51 learn just about as much in one year as their peers at preschools that charge tuition, according to District 51 early-childhood-education specialists.

This information was included in a presentation about the district’s preschool programs to school board members Tuesday night. Jackie Howard, District 51 preschool coordinator,  said students in preschool programs provided by Colorado school districts, including District 51, had nearly as much cognitive, emotional and learning development as their peers at tuition-based preschools in the state and slightly more physical development after one year in preschool.

“It really does show quality intervention can help close a gap” in learning, Howard said.

The Colorado Preschool Program, started statewide in 1988, reserves public funding for free preschool programs in school districts across Colorado. The program is geared toward helping children at risk of starting school less prepared than their peers, whose families might be better able to afford preschools that charge tuition.

This year, the district received $1.4 million from the state for preschool programming at 24 of its schools.

A student has to have a special education need or be “at-risk for future educational difficulties” in order to enter the district’s preschool program, according to District 51’s Web site. Because class sizes are capped at 16 students, the district prioritizes enrolling special-needs students and then takes at-risk students based on how great their need is.

This year, 65 percent of District 51 preschoolers qualified for free or reduced meals, meaning their families’ income is at 130 percent or 185 percent of the poverty level. The average District 51 preschool student has nearly four risk factors for entering kindergarten behind his or her peers: living in poverty, having an abusive parent, living in a single-parent household and one of other factors.


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