Preparing kids for school

To the Journal editor;

As program director for the Great Start to Quality Upper Peninsula Resource Center serving all 15 rural U.P. counties, I see daily the challenges parents face as they navigate shortages in finding openings in early education and care for their children.

The U.P. is home to a variety of early childhood services. These options have grown over time to accommodate desired educational approaches and changing needs of families, though large gaps in available/accessible care still exist.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Pre-K for All initiative has potential to successfully and seamlessly expand existing early education and care services by breaking down cost barriers and collaborating with local communities and businesses already engaging in those efforts.

For example, some parents want their preschooler to attend the same school as their older child or children. Others seek a home care model, where younger children are together, or they prefer the close connection with a family care provider in a smaller group. Some like larger early education and care centers that serve more children of the same age. Still others may seek a mix of home and group settings.

PreK for All is poised to move the entire state’s access to early education and care forward through state investment and strategic direction. It’s imperative this opportunity utilizes current systems so families, their children and early education and care staff can successfully implement this program by building upon what already exists.

To do this effectively, we must provide a mixed delivery approach that all parents can easily access and participate in. We really must look at the whole picture. We have to offer safe, high-quality opportunities to parents if we want all children to have an equitable shot at success as they move through the education system. Combining and offering options we already do well with PreK for All is our chance to do just that.

No initiative is flawless, so though here in Marquette County our Great Start to Readiness Program has 2 new classrooms, we’re still 200-250 slots short of being able to offer all four-year-olds the option to attend full-time PreK.

We also have classrooms sitting empty and dark because we don’t have staff to run them. Pay parity is another issue we will encounter as we work to get PreK for All off the ground successfully. We have our work cut out for us, but the effort will be well worth it.

This is where Whitmer’s PreK for All initiative comes in; her proposal to implement a plan that will guarantee all 118,000 Michigan four-year-olds an opportunity to enroll in free PreK is bold and ambitious. With PreK for All added to the mix, there would be enough room in the sandbox for all children to play and flourish together. For families looking for a full-time PreK experience, PreK for All should offer a mixed delivery system that includes a selection of existing programs with a variety of provider types, to ensure access to equitable care and education for all Michigan children.

We want the best for all kids. We know investing in early childhood education and care gives them a strong foundation to be successful. We meet families and children where they are and we give them the best opportunities to grow and learn, especially here in the U.P. where the rural setting of our environment can often limit options.

At the end of the day, every single Michigan four-year-old, regardless of where they live or where they come from, deserves an opportunity to enroll in a program that prepares them well for the K-12 journey that lies ahead.


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