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Preschool program gets high rating
While a preschool classroom may appear to be just "controlled chaos" to some, educators shared that it can create a strong foundation to succeed later in school.
Given the statistic that 90 percent of a child's brain is developed by age five, First Things First has made quality preschool and access to early education one of their top priorities.
Through the $5 million that First Things First receives annually from tobacco tax dollars, they currently provide over 500 scholarships for preschool age children to attend one of their 41 sites in Yuma through their Quality First program. Quality First is a First Things First program that partners with childcare and preschool providers to improve early learning.
Desert Mesa Elementary School was recognized during a celebration event Tuesday for being one of three preschool programs in Yuma that received a four-star Quality Plus rating through Quality First. They have been funded as part of the program for the past three years, although they have offered preschool classes since 1998 through other funding sources like grants.
"Regarding the fact that the preschool here at Desert Mesa earned a four-star rating, I’m just proud - I’m prouder than proud," said principal Eula Baumgarner. "But I’m not surprised, because I see the long hours (teachers) put in."
Rudy Ortiz, First Things First Yuma Regional director, said that the program provides families with a rating system to show how schools measure up with their criteria. Areas looked at in assessments include health and safety practices, staff qualifications, teacher-child interactions, learning environments, lessons, group sizes, child assessment and parent communication. Ortiz added that parents can input their address on the QualityFirstAZ.com website to find programs within 50 miles of their home.
Additionally, Yuma Regional Partnership Council vice chair Irene Garza said that Quality First has established a statewide standard of quality for early care and education programs. Garza, a parent representative for the council, said that this includes training for teachers to expand their skills in working with children and coaching to help programs provide learning environments that nurture emotional, social, language and cognitive development.
Ortiz said that their hope is that every program in Yuma will soon have that same quality of standard for the children in their program to make a positive impact for their later years.
"Our kindergarten teachers can really tell the kids that come from a Quality First preschool program," said Yuma Elementary School District 1 preschool coordinator Jennifer Mquqwana. "They’re prepared, they’re ready to learn, they’re more independent and they have the language to describe what they’re thinking which is so important when they go into the Common Core, it’s so much more about critical analysis now.”
Mquqwana said that currently in District 1 there are four sites that offer a total of nine preschool classes - seven of which are special education classes.
"We have two general education classrooms funded by First Things First scholarships," she said. "There used to be funding by the state for preschools; it’s all dried up. This is one way we can provide that at a limited level, but we’re really working hard to expand programs because there’s a huge need."
She said they have waiting lists of students waiting to get into their programs currently.
Yuma Regional Partnership Council chair Darren Hawkins, who is the faith based representative for the group, said that their bottom line is to invest in children.
"The motto for First Things First is 'Ready for school. Set for life,' but that’s not our motto - it’s our conviction. We want to invest in our children, in all of our children… For every dollar we spend on children of preschool ages, we can save $4 to $16 later on through state funds. Invest early, invest well. It reminds me of the old proverb, ‘Train up a child in the way he or she should go and when they are old they will not depart from it.’”