By: John Ladd, Program Officer, Invest In ChildrenWhile it’s “Back to School” time for a lot of kids, it’s “Off to School” for the youngest new students who will be going for the very first time.
Many parents think of Kindergarten as the time when school starts. However, school really begins in preschool, where three and four-year-olds not only enjoy time with other kids, but begin to explore the basics of words, numbers, and continue making connections between images, ideas and language. In fact, those students who do the best in Kindergarten, are those who attend a high-quality preschool and have already started to explore these areas. Some kids whose first school experience is their first day of kindergarten may find themselves behind their peers and struggling to catch up. Preschool also helps children learn how to behave in a school setting: how to stand in line, raise your hand when you need help, and function within a group setting with other children.Cuyahoga County’s Office of Early Childhood, better known as Invest In Children, is working hard to help parents get their children enrolled in preschool, beginning at age 3. We are also making sure those kids get the benefit of being in a high-quality setting. Our Universal Pre-Kindergarten program (UPK) has 66 participating preschool sites – all dedicated to giving kids the most beneficial preschool experience possible. For many students at these sites, scholarship assistance is available. While each program sets its own tuition rates, Cuyahoga County can provide scholarship assistance to families earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level (for example: $98,400 annual income for a family of four.)
What makes a preschool high-quality? For starters, it means they have achieved a rating of “3 Stars” or higher on Ohio’s Step Up to Quality Rating System. However, our UPK sites go beyond those standards to stand out from the others.
- The needs, interests and abilities of children are the basis for developing experiences and activities.
- Classrooms have lower teacher to child ratios.
- Teachers hold higher education qualifications and participate in professional development that exceeds minimum standards.
- Family engagement and community input is used to inform the program’s continuous improvement process.
UPK sites are located throughout the county and include public preschools, Head Start Programs, community child care centers, and family child care homes. There are many ways parents can search for the right preschool, and learn if that site measures up. The easiest is by visiting www.cuyahogaKids.org. Here, parents can search for a preschool, and only high-quality sites are shown in the search results. While on the site, parents can also find fun things to do with their children and interesting places to visit.
“Back to School Time” is an annual tradition. But it’s different today. Education before Kindergarten is now “the norm,” and is very important to a child’s future success in school. Cuyahoga County’s Invest In Children is making it easier than ever for parents to find the right experience for their child.