Westwood Pre-school

Pre-school students in Ginny Gayso's class at Westwood Primary School play a game called "What's in the Letter Bag?" pulling letters from a paper sack and coloring the letters on the page. From left: Keelynn Daniel and Eli Dudley (standing), Leighton Bishop, (front center), and Krisianna Allen (right).  

Quietly and without fanfare or hype, Palestine's two school districts have undertaken the community's most important initiative in the last two years. It has nothing to do with the mayor or city council, or what the trolls are saying on social media.

The big news is that pre-kindergarten classes at Westwood and Palestine Independent School Districts have morphed from half-day to full-day programs that cover all four-year-olds in the two districts. The federally funded Head Start program for four-year-olds from low-income households also will continue.

“So what?” you ask. So everything.

Education and nutrition programs for children younger than 5, when 90 percent of brain growth occurs, produce more successful students and adults. Pre-K programs provide a head start in academic, emotional, and social development.

Sending all four-year-olds to kindergarten ready to learn will pay big dividends: Fewer drop-outs, more successful students and adults, higher incomes, and fewer people in state prisons and county jails.

Every $1 invested in Pre-K reaps $2.50 to $17 in long-term benefits and reduced social costs, dozens of studies have concluded.

All-day Pre-K also helps working parents with their childcare.

In the 2017-2018 school year, Westwood moved from half-day to full-day Pre-K – but for qualifying students only. Students met federal low-income guidelines, or came from non-English speaking households.

Typically, children from disadvantaged households start school a year or two behind their peers in language and other skills.

This year's Pre-K class at Westwood serves 55 students. Opening full-day Pre-K to all students is expected to add 25 more four-year-olds to the 2019-2020 Pre-K program, Assistant Superintendent Christine Bedre said. Along with 20 or so students in the federally funded Head Start program, the district's pre-kindergarten programs should cover nearly all age-eligible students.

Early registration for Westwood ISD's full-day Pre-K program runs through Wednesday.

 Parents should register at the district's primary campus, 1701 West Point Tap Road, on Tuesday from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. On Wednesday, register from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 School starts Aug. 21. Parents who can't register early may still register later.

 Parents need their photo I.Ds and proof of residency and income, as well as their child's birth certificate, Social Security card, and immunization records. For more information, call 903.729.1774.

 State funding covers only half-day Pre-K programs for qualifying students. That means Westwood will need to spend up to $100,000 from its general fund to cover the rest. Superintendent Wade Stanford applauded Westwood School Board members for making that commitment.

It's the best money they could spend.

Up to third-grade, students learn to read. After that, they read to learn. Students who fall behind early may never catch up.

Westwood's Pre-K program focuses on language and literacy – learning how to listen, speak, read, and write, said Rosa Perez, principal of Westwood Primary School. Last year, all Westwood Pre-K students entered kindergarten having mastered reading skills for that grade level.

In February, the Palestine Independent School District announced a similar full-day Pre-K program, also starting in the 2019-2020 school year.

More and more of Texas' 1,200 school districts are considering full-day Pre-K programs for all students. Palestine is lucky to have two school districts already on board.