From the time they are born to when they first attend school children can learn a lot. The skills of reading, writing and basic math are attained by some children who attend preschool. This can provide preschoolers with a significant head start over children with no pre-kindergarten education.
Studies have shown the gap between the two groups grows as their schooling progresses. The benefits of preschool are especially important for children deemed “at risk.”
These advantages of have led many parents and politicians, including civic leaders in Pittsburgh and across the state of Pennsylvania, to call for state-funded preschool. As part of WESA’s Life of Learning initiative, we invited several guests to join us on Essential Pittsburgh to discuss Pre-K education. Those guests were Michelle Figlar, executive director of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC); Bob McCall, co-director of the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development; Dr. Cosette Grant-Overton, manager for the Educational Policy and Workforce Development Office of Mayor Peduto and former Pittsburgh Public Schools kindergarten teacher Ellen Smith.
Michelle Figlar explained the difference between pre-k and the Head Start Program.
“Head Start is serving the most at risk families in our community. They serve families who are living below 100% of poverty, so this is a family that’s really in need of services. And they wrap around total comprehensive programs for families. Universal pre-k strategies are about leveraging what we know is best in Head Start and leveraging that out to other children… it’s broadening the strategy to impact more children.”
Dr. Cosette Grant-Overton explained how the city’s resources give Pittsburgh the opportunity for this sort of education.
“Pittsburgh is very rich in being a very tight-knit and close community and we have a wealth of resources here. So in addition to [obtaining state and federal funding], similar to what has happened to New York City, [we must] work with our local corporations, foundations and universities in order to look for ways in which to support, dollar-wise and research-wise, this effort.”
Ellen Smith, a former Pittsburgh Public Schools kindergarten teacher, said she could tell when a student had attended preschool.
“A child who has a quality pre-k experience usually comes to kindergarten with a set of social skills that help them to just be ready for the academic piece. A child who has social skills is generally able to follow directions, able to pay attention, able to get along with peers, able to manage feelings of anger or frustration, and it really is a set of skills that allows them to navigate everything that happens in kindergarten.”