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Area pre-K rosters filling up
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Despite last month's report calling attention to declining pre-K enrollment across the state, Liberty County pre-K principal Dr. Shelby Bush sees a different trend.
"We have not, in our area, faced a decrease in enrollment," she said.
In fact, the center is adding another classroom this year to service the 420 students who have registered.
And registration is still going on for classes set to begin next month. Registrations continue through the school year if all the slots have not been filled.
"I feel very confident, come August, we'll be full," Bush said. "We have been enrolling several students each day."
The Southern Education Foundation released a Time to Lead Again report citing how accessibility and other factors have kept many eligible Georgia 4-year-olds from enrolling in the program.
As the first state to offer the voluntary program, Georgia once led the country in providing quality early educational opportunities for 4-year-olds.
The report explains how the state program is now "in danger of being out-distanced by the early learning movement it started."
"Today there are other states with larger rates of pre-K enrollment, faster rates of growth, more comprehensive programs, stronger standards for high-quality and larger per child investments," according to the report.
Pre-K enrollment has averaged 52 to 55 percent since 2002, with the lowest numbers in north Georgia.
State funding limits the number of slots a county can provide, resulting in waiting lists as a common barrier.
"Georgia pre-K enrollment is far less than the number of Georgia children whose parents want them to participate in high quality pre-K today," the report said.
However, Bush said Liberty County has combated some of the problems with waiting lists when it opened its centrally located Pre-K Center, providing an exclusive service in comparison to many other counties.
When it was first started, pre-K classes were at different elementary schools and there were waiting lists, depending on the slots open at that site.
"Instead of having that problem, we just brought them all to one site," Bush explained. "And wherever you live in the county, with the exception of Fort Stewart, you can come to this school."
The report says 13 other states crept up to "nationally recognized pre-K standards for high-quality programs that exceed or match those of Georgia pre-K."
Bush said the program here is progressing.
"Our day is very much laid out," she described. "We use High/Scope curriculum and our content standards are geared toward the Georgia standards for kindergarten."
High/Scope Educational Research Foundation is an independent nonprofit research, development, training and public outreach organization that helps to develop curricula for infant/toddler, preschool, elementary, youth development, and movement and music programs.
Becky Busby, former pre-K teacher and now a first-grade teacher, remembers the waiting lists and commends the center for recent progress in offering specialized instructional classes for students with disabilities.
The program has evolved to allow teachers to do "a lot more with the curriculum," since Busby was there in 2000.
Pre-K students are not graded or directly taught, as regulated by the Georgia Early Learning Standards.
They are exposed to foundational skills they will learn in the next grades and receive "anecdotal notes," to track their comprehension.
Besides an introduction to early academics, Bush has seen how pre-K establishes social skills and acclimates a child to expected behavior in a learning environment.
As a first-grade teacher, Busby finds that the students who go through pre-K are at a stage similar to "getting two kindergarten years, almost."
"It almost makes them a year older," she said.
"You have children that have never ever have been in any kind of social setting other than being with their parents," Bush said. "And we get others (children) who are used to being away from their parents."
"When pre-K was developed, it was to prepare children to build that foundation for kindergarten," she said.
The report concludes that goals will not be met in the next couple years, but outlines implementations to help "restore Georgia pre-K as the nation's leading early learning program."

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