tampabay.com

Voluntary pre-K readies kids for the first day

By TOM MARSHALL
Published May 14, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - The first day of kindergarten looms large - both for 5-year-olds and their anxious parents.

But there's still time to sign up for this summer's voluntary pre-kindergarten program, a free state program being offered at Eastside, Westside and Brooksville elementary schools.

First offered last year in Hernando public schools, the 300-hour summer program offers the real thing: age-appropriate practice in reading, mathematics and other school- readiness skills.

While early assessments show a modest local and statewide gain in those skill areas, the most important improvements may be in the emotional realm.

"We definitely had less crying, " said Hernando curriculum coordinator Elaine Wooten, recalling the kindergarteners this year who came to school early for the VPK program.

Students are offered a full day of readiness activities between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., and lunch is served at all sites, Wooten said. The program runs from June 5 through July 31.

To be eligible, students must be 5 years old on or before Sept. 1, and have never attended a state-supported VPK program. About 1, 000 of Hernando County's 1, 600 eligible pre-kindergarteners attended a similar program offered this year by private providers, Wooten said.

Legislators added "a few dollars" to the state program this spring, but didn't make other changes to the program voters authorized in 2002 with a constitutional amendment, she said.

Many had hoped the Legislature would require more teacher preparation - only public school providers are required to use certified teachers - or provide transportation funding for the summer program, she said.

"Parents have to provide their own transportation, " Wooten added. "That is a real inhibitor."

Florida is a national leader in pre-kindergarten enrollment, but ranks 29th in per-student funding, according to a report by the Southern Education Foundation.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or 352 848-1431.

Fast Facts:

To register

For information on this free voluntary pre-kindergarten program, call 797-7070, ext. 429 or 443.