Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Earlier this month an article in the Vineyard Gazette – “First Step Is Big Step on Path of Education” – looked at preschool on Martha’s Vineyard.

“As a conversation unfolds in Massachusetts and around the country on the value of pre-kindergarten learning and whether it should be incorporated into public school education, interviews with early childhood educators on the Island reveals a similar conversation is quietly taking place here,” the article says.

Famous for being a summer vacation destination, the Vineyard faces familiar challenges in providing high-quality early education programs, including access, affordability, and serving English Language Learners.

“There are no comprehensive hard numbers on the preschool-aged population on the Vineyard, although it is known that the 10 preschools and 18 state-licensed day care facilities can accommodate up to 386 children on any given day,” according to the article. “The 2010 census found that there were 818 children under the age of six whose parents work. This would suggest that possibly there are more children needing preschool and day care than available spaces, although not all the schools and centers are fully enrolled.”

“Cost can be a barrier,” the article says. “Nearly all Island preschools are private and cost anywhere from $800 to upwards of $1,000 a month for full-time enrollment. The Vineyard school system runs the only public preschool on the Island, Project Headway, which began in 1981 and is primarily for students with special needs. Students without special needs attend as well, but they pay tuition.”

And for some island families, “one parent’s salary is dedicated entirely to child care, said Alecia Barnes, community outreach educator with the public school district.”

“In interviews last spring with prospective kindergarteners for whom English is not their first language, English language learner coordinator Leah Palmer found that 22 out of 33 children had not attended preschool even one day a week.

“‘If a child had a preschool experience, their English language proficiency level was significantly higher,’ she said. Once they get into kindergarten, these students are eligible for extra support to learn English, and can catch up to the others, she said.”

Across the Water

The article also points across the water to Mashpee where “universal preschool is being offered for the first time this year to all 4 year olds.”

A article – “Transportation Drives Up Cost Of Mashpee Preschool Program” — says, “The total cost of the pilot program is $437,821, consisting of a $228,251 net professional staff appropriation and $73,639 net support staff appropriation, both of which were offset by grants, in addition to $135,921 for transportation.”

“Free transportation is for full-day students who need it as well as some students in the half-day program.”

Despite the costs, officials praise the Mashpee program.

“School committee member Joan N. Oliver stressed the importance of providing an opportunity for students who might not otherwise have access to preschool education.

“‘I think it’s so important that these kids are getting a head start and because our MCAS scores are low in this town, and if you look at why they’re low, it’s because the kids that started were behind,’ Ms. Oliver said. ‘I’m not saying that we should just not look at the numbers… but I think that’s a component that we have to look at and I think that in years to come, it’s going to pay off.’”

A Museum School for Young Children

As we’ve blogged before, museums and libraries have exciting roles to play in education. But in Sandwich a new preschool program, The Hundred Acre School, runs at the Heritage Museums and Gardens. The program uses the museum resources and its programming uses STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) as “a springboard to multidisciplinary learning.”

In the article, “Pre-K students get new STEM School at Sandwich Museum,” the Cape Cod Times reports that the “cost of opening the private, nonprofit preschool is estimated at $1.5 million,” and the project received $164,212 from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, “as part of an effort to start STEM learning in the earliest grades.”

“State Senate President Therese Murray praised the museum’s preschool plans in a press release, saying, ‘Our future relies on new ideas and new industries, and this preschool program will be a springboard for our children to become tomorrow’s leaders and innovators.’”

Heritage officials worked with the Sandwich Public Schools and the Sandwich Public Library to develop the curriculum, the article said, adding that STEM learning is infused throughout Sandwich’s K-12 curriculum.

The Sandwich schools infuse STEM learning through the K-12 curriculum and will open a STEM academy for grades 7 and 8 at Sandwich High School next fall, said Trish Hill, science coordinator for Sandwich grades K-8.

So keep an eye on the Cape and the Islands to see how their preschools do in the growing national effort to provide high-quality early education and care for young children.