Three rural Idaho school districts — Homedale, Castleford, and Nezperce — are starting up or expanding their pre-K programs.
The districts are adding opportunities for young learners with the help of grants from the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health — and inviting the public to learn more about the new programs via open houses that will be held this fall.
Each district was awarded $45,000-$48,000 to launch their program — or expand it, in Nezperce’s case. Its program is growing from two to five days a week.
Districts and charter schools do receive some federal pre-K funds for special education students. Otherwise, districts that want to offer pre-K or need to supplement state funding have to get creative.
“Like a lot of schools, we were just kind of faced with having kids come in that weren’t quite ready to go, so this was a good opportunity for us to continue to reach out to them so they can grow and improve,” said Nezperce Joint School District Superintendent Shawn Tiegs.
On top of helping prepare young children for elementary school, Nezperce’s program will provide “much-needed childcare for working parents.” Tiegs said eight students are currently enrolled in the preschool program, which runs from 8 to 11:30 a.m. each weekday.
Tiegs said the grant dollars will be used to help fund a classroom aide, a preschool teacher, classroom equipment, and staff training.
“Our program is low-tech and focuses on play-based learning that helps get kids ready for kindergarten,” Tiegs said.
The Nezperce School District will host an open house and tour of its pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms on Monday, Sept. 19. The open house starts at the elementary school at 5:30 p.m., and the classroom tours will take place from 6-6:30 p.m.
Jackie Yarbrough, the foundation’s senior program officer, said she often hears from rural communities that more than half their students who enter kindergarten are not school-ready and that there’s a need for more support and resources in that arena.
“Early education is incredibly important for the success of all kids,” she said. “Rural communities really struggle to have quality childcare available and early education opportunities … so this is an easy investment to make for Idaho and Idaho’s children.”
The Castleford School District will host an open house on Sept. 28; the time is to be announced. Homedale will hold an open house later this year.
Data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.