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Kindergarten Teachers: "Idaho Needs More Preschool Options"

Early-learning collaboratives are becoming affordable alternatives for giving kids the option of attending preschool in Idaho. (heatherdeffense/Twenty20)
Early-learning collaboratives are becoming affordable alternatives for giving kids the option of attending preschool in Idaho. (heatherdeffense/Twenty20)
October 10, 2018

KENDRICK, Idaho – A coalition is launching an effort to bring preschool to more Idaho kids, and kindergarten teachers say it could level the playing field for their students.

The Gem State is one of only five states that doesn't invest in preschool, and Angie Tweit, who teaches kindergarten in Kendrick, said preschool opportunities are rare in rural towns such as hers. After years of waiting, Tweit had an epiphany in 2016 and realized she would have to step up to get preschool in her community, so she started an early-learning collaborative.

"It just dawned on me, 'I can't wait any longer.' I mean, the students are coming in and they only have one shot at that," she said. "So, another class would go through and no preschool, and it felt like we were starting off day-one 'kindergarten intervention.' "

Tweit said the most helpful group in this effort has been parents. Her district offers preschool at no charge and, in return, parents volunteer once a month in the classroom. She said the collaborative is supported by a patchwork of funding from businesses, education foundations, the district and a federal Community Learning Center grant.

The Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children is to launch its "Preschool the Idaho Way" project today in Boise. According to Idaho AEYC, every dollar invested in quality early-learning programs could save taxpayers $7 to $13 in costs of children repeating grades and special-education services.

Kuna kindergarten teacher Alyssa Townsend said she is convinced that investing in preschool would ensure long-term success for more students. She said kids come to her class without many of the basics - including academic, social and fine motor skills.

"If kids come to us at five years old still at a three-year-old ability level – which we get very, very often – they're trying to catch up those last two years," she said, "and they can't do three years worth of growth within the year that we have them."

Affordability and cost remain big barriers. Tweit said the idea isn't mandating that every parent put their child in preschool - but rather giving every kid a chance at the benefits of an early-learning program.

"We just don't want to have the 'haves' and the 'have-nots.' As a kindergarten teacher, I see children who come who have received early-childhood education, and then there are the children who come who have not," she said, "and we just want to make sure that everyone has access to quality preschool programs."

Information on the Preschool the Idaho Way launch is online at eventbrite.com.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID