Expanding Options for Early Learning
Preschool for all is the mission of Kendra Yamamoto, preschool teacher and 2017 Teacher of the Year for Educational Service District (ESD) 112 in Vancouver. She teaches at the only district-funded general education preschool for Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) and her dream is to extend preschool to all.
Most parents and teens today will remember kindergarten as a half-day program focused on play and socialization, more like what a typical preschool is like. Students were not introduced to basic reading and arithmetic until the first grade. Those same skills are now being taught on day one in kindergarten classes across the country. To track progress, the newly 5-year-old students are included in state-mandated testing at different points in the school year.
The shift to a full-time, more academically focused kindergarten curriculum occurred in Washington State six years ago. A state study showed that only 53.1% of students at kindergarten age met all the physical, emotional and academic standards for kindergarten readiness upon entering school. Low-income students fared worse, at 38.7%. Additionally, the financial burden for working parents having to pick up a child in the middle of the day inspired the state to expand kindergarten classes to a full school day.
While the needs for families and expectations for students have changed, American education is still K-12 focused. Many view preschool as an optional choice or luxury for those who can afford it. However, that perception is slowly beginning to change as more areas adopt a preschool-for-all approach. Several states such as Oklahoma, Florida and Georgia, as well as New York City now offer universal pre-K programs. Yamamoto taught in Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) for eight years before leaving when her first child was born. “I didn’t foresee landing here,” she says. “I’d resigned and planned to be a stay-at-home mom. Then I got a call from the district saying that kindergartners were really struggling. ‘How would you like to start a preschool program?’”
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FREE PRESCHOOL PROGRAMS IN VANCOUVER, WA
• VPS Preschool: 3 days a week, morning or afternoon session available. King Elementary. Full year commitment. 14-student limit: https://vansd.org/preschool-programs/
• ESD Preschools: Part-day, full-day or home visit based. Income-eligible. For children birth -5 years old:
• Evening Preschool: 13 sites throughout city. 1 or 2 nights a week. All 4 – 5 year old students welcome: https://vansd.org/kindergarten/
• Grow and Learn: 1 ½ hours a day. 1 day a week. Throughout school year. At various schools throughout the district: https://www.esd112.org/?s=grow+and+learn
• Jump Start: Part-day summer program offered at all 21 VPS schools for children entering kindergarten: https://vansd.org/kindergarten/#jump-start