Alisha Beverly couldn’t be more thrilled that her 4-year-old son, Braden, is enrolled in the Boise pre-K pilot project at Hawthorne Elementary School.
“Putting your kids in preschool is practically half a mortgage payment for my family,” Beverly said. “It’s important to me to have my kids kindergarten ready.”
The City of Boise and the Boise School District launched the Boise pre-K project to the Vista neighborhood in November. The project is part of a larger initiative called “Energize Our Neighborhoods” where the city is using data as a road map to consider how community investments should be made.
“It shows how much the city is putting stock in getting children ready for public education,” Beverly said. “The city and district understand it’s a problem, especially in the low-income area.”
Idaho is one of only six states without state-funded preschool. The most recent, bipartisan effort to launch a statewide pilot program failed during the 2015 legislative session. Boise Democratic Rep. Hy Kloc was able to draft a bill, enlist the support of Republican co-sponsors and introduce the legislation, but the bill did not get a hearing.
A report issued by the National Institute for Early Education Research found that Idaho’s pre-K enrollment numbers are among the lowest in the country. According to that report, just 6.8 percent of Idaho’s 3 year olds were enrolled in federal- or state-funded Head Start or special education programs during the 2013-14 school year — the lowest percentage in the country.
“What we are doing looks and sounds like fun, but it is very serious,” said Grace Ruddy, pre-K teacher at Hawthorne elementary school. “If children don’t have early learning experiences they can fall behind before they even come to school.”
The project serves 60 kids at Hawthorne and Whitney elementary schools. Each student attends preschool three hours a day, either in the morning or the afternoon. The classes are capped at 20 kids and run five days a week. Parents are required to volunteer two hours a week.
“For free education I will volunteer more hours because I know this will be worth it for my child’s future,” Beverly said.
The education emphasis is early literacy — talking, letters and sounds.
“We are going to have the results and people will see that this is a great program,” Ruddy said.
Jessica Niemann’s daughter is in Ruddy’s class and is already seeing results.
“My daughter is reading to me and is sounding out the words that she wasn’t able to do before,” Niemann said. “It’s nice to actually see improvement that I wasn’t getting in myself.”
The city funds the project with tax dollars and community partners — including $50,000 from United Way and $25,000 from the Micron Foundation. Other community sponsors include Wells Fargo, The Idaho Statesman, St. Luke’s Health System, Keynetics, George and Bev Harad, Oppenheimer Companies, Delaware North, Whole Foods and Saint Alphonsus Health System.