Opelika City Schools are readying a program for next year targeting the city’s youngest residents.
In January, the school system submitted an application to the state for grant money to fund five First Class Pre-K classrooms for the 2020-21 school years.
First Class Pre-K is state-funded and monitored, having consistently received the National Institute for Early Education Research’s highest-quality rating 13 years in a row.
Adding the program to the city’s school system has been part of the discussions by the city’s crime and neighborhood issues. Chaired by city Councilwoman Patsy Jones, the commission’s education subcommittee surveyed the school system’s teachers and support staff, reviewing their responses to see if they could devise a proactive response.
“The school system has requirements from the state legislature and, being a former educator, I know the importance, as well as many on that board, of children being academically ready as well as socially ready when they are entering into the school,” Jones said. “And we know our population does not afford every child an opportunity to be able to have pre-K or some type of nurturing program that would prepare them.”
Alabama doesn’t require children to go through pre-K before enrolling in kindergarten, but the proposal has strong support among the commission’s members, Jones added.
Opelika City Schools will also get a boost from the city, which has allocated an additional $331,000 to the school system for the development of the classrooms.
“You’re not teaching them, per say, as ‘academics,’ but you’re focusing and guiding them in a way that will help them when they get into a regular classroom setting,” Jones said. “And because of that exposure and of the way it is being run, we think that it would be a good method to use for getting our children ready for school.”
Each First Class classroom would have 18 students, so with the five classrooms the school board is applying for there will be 90 spots available.
In preparation, space at Opelika High School has already been designated for the classrooms, a director for the program has been appointed and interested parents will be able to register their children online for the program’s lottery based admission at the beginning of the year.
As the superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Opelika City Schools, Jean Miller said that children who have been in a pre-K program are accustomed to the classroom environment and procedures.
“All of that goes hand in hand, the interaction and the instruction. And the instruction in the pre-K room is going to be different than it would be in kindergarten,” she said. “They’re still going to be learning the basics: the colors, the shapes, maybe a few sight words, ABCs. They’ll be learning those basics that when they come into kindergarten, then they’re ready to take off.”
Miller said the grant application process for the First Class Pre-K classrooms is competitive and must be done every year, but she is confident of the city’s chances of getting their classrooms.