Kitty Stone is one of three county schools selected to be a part of the expansion of the state’s voluntary pre-K program. The celebration was organized by the Alabama School Readiness Alliance.
The others are Norwood Head Start and Hobson City Head Start. The fourth, Piedmont Elementary, received a new First Class Pre-K Intervention Grant, also as a part of the expansion this year.
“The state requires you to serve special needs children that are ages 3 and 4, so that’s how we started last year,” said Kitty Stone principal Christy Hamilton. “We offered the few spots that were available to the teachers in the system who had children who were 3 and 4. We had a total of seven to participate.”
Hamilton said she and other educators have known for awhile that there was a need in Jacksonville for a 4-year-old pre-K program.
“We checked across the city, and there were approximately 25 slots for children age 4 for pre-K in the city already,” she said. “Typically, we have about 120 to 130 kindergarteners, so we knew there were about 100 to 110 children not being served in the 4-year-old program.”
The Office of School Readiness was already awarding grants in the past on a limited basis. That office was able to expand the number of grants awarded when the legislation extended its funding over $9 million dollars. Kitty Stone applied for what is called a First Class Plus Grant and for $120,000, which would provide funding for a full time teacher, a full time aide and money to purchase materials, supplies and equipment for a classroom.
After hearing Kitty Stone had been awarded the grant, the staff began getting ready for the new school year. An advertisement was put in The Jacksonville News, the announcement was put on the school website, and Hamilton went around town putting up fliers in businesses. She targeted businesses that she thought mothers of younger children would be more apt to visit.
Fifty-four signed up.
“We put everyone’s name in a hat and did a lottery,” said Hamilton. “We actually had two hats. We put boys names in one and girls in the other. We took the first nine boys and the first nine girls we drew and placed them in the pre-K class.”
Kitty Stone kept the original half day program that was started last year, which was funded with state, federal and local monies, but was able to expand it to a full time program this year. Some special needs students are served in this classroom. The unit is being funded in the same manner this year.
“We’re seeing all students make significant strides in acquiring skills that are necessary for a successful year in kindergarten,” said Hamilton. “Students participating in a full time researched based pre-K program are better prepared for kindergarten, enter school with fewer skill deficits and are more socially prepared for school. “
She said all of the pre-K students are delightful.
“I love to go into the classroom and see them,” she said. “They’re like little sponges; they’re so eager to learn, they’re so happy and innocent. Even last year doing this a half a day, we saw huge gains in those children. And it’s just going to give them a better foundation so that they’re ready when they do start school.”
Calhoun County Rep. K. L. Brown, Sen. Del Marsh, Rep. Randy Wood, Mayor Johnny Smith, some city council members, director of the Office of School Readiness Jenna Ross and assistant director Jan Hume, were on hand, as well as Liz Huntley, a corporate attorney in Birmingham. Huntley told her story of how Pre-K changed her life.
Brown said parents in Jacksonville are proud of the program.
“The high demand for the 18 spots in the new classroom at Kitty Stone Elementary speaks volumes about how our community has embraced the value of high quality pre-kindergarten education,” he said. “Due to the state’s increased pre-K investments, more of our community’s children will now have the opportunity to enter kindergarten prepared and ready to learn.”
The grant calls for parents to pay fees, but the fees are based on each family’s income and the number of persons in the household.
Hamilton said the fees are reasonable. They range from $40 to $300 a month. She cited one parent who was paying $130 a week for her child to attend a preschool and is now happy to pay $40 a month.
To quality for the pre-K program, students must live within the school district, turn 4 years of age on or before Sept. 4 and have up-to-date immunizations.
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