The Sampson County Partnership for Children will serve 331 children during the 2012-13 school year under the North Carolina Prekindergarten (NCPK) program, aimed to ready at-risk 4-year-olds for school. Slots are filling up fast, with just a selected few left.
“Enrollment is nearly complete with only a few vacancies remaining, so families are urged to contact the Partnership as soon as possible if they are interested in applying for the upcoming school year beginning Aug. 27,” stated Dr. Victoria Byrd, executive director for the Partnership.
She said there are only about 25 slots left.
The North Carolina Prekindergarten Program provides high quality educational experiences for income-eligible 4-year-olds in order to enhance their kindergarten readiness. Children served by NCPK typically attend a full school day of 6 1/2 hours over a full 10-month school year program, and may be served in classrooms in the public schools, Head Start programs and licensed child care centers.
Byrd said the Partnership has contracted with Clinton City Schools, Sampson County Schools and Telamon Corporation’s Head Start to offer NCPK services at nine sites: College Street Academy, Clinton Head Start and seven elementary schools — Hobbton, Clement, Midway, Hargrove, Union, Roseboro and Salemburg.
The program targets children who will be 4 years old by Aug. 31, will be entering kindergarten the following year and who may be at risk for poor school outcomes. Factors that can influence poor school outcomes include low income, limited English proficiency, identified disability, chronic health conditions and developmental or educational needs.
“Most of the children we serve in this program will be children who have not previously received services,” Byrd said. “These children benefit from a year of pre-kindergarten by being prepared social-emotionally and cognitively to participate equally in the kindergarten learning experience.”
Formerly known as the More At Four Pre-K Program, NCPK underwent significant changes last year as a result of legislative intervention. Program requirements still include maintaining a 4 or 5 star-rated license; using an approved developmental screening tool and comprehensive curriculum; conducting ongoing assessments pertaining to each child’s growth and skill development; and using fully qualified teachers and teacher assistants.
Much of the changes were internal, Byrd noted.
“From the public’s viewpoint, I don’t think there’s been as much of a change as there has been within our agency,” Byrd said, citing record-keeping and various other transitional work. “We have tried to maintain the program with the least interruption in service to the community as possible. I think we’ve done a good job.”
There have been factors out of the Partnership’s hands that have acted to affect the size of the NCPK program, with state budget reductions necessitating that the amount of children served be scaled back. Byrd said the local Partnership is rolling with the punches, and will continue to serve hundreds of children, albeit a reduction in year’s past.
“We sustained quite a reduction in our budget,”noted Byrd. “The changes came into effect on July 1, 2011 and we were reduced by about 75 slots last year. This last year has been a huge transition year. I think everyone is feeling more comfortable now that we’re starting our second year (in the NCPK program).”
With the slots quickly filling up, Byrd said she is reassured that the quality program from the Partnership is still very much needed. “It makes you realize, first, how successful it is, and second, that there truly is a need,” said Byrd.
There is a need for any number of youth programs, whether locally, state or federally-funded, she noted.
For NCPK. the target population is at-risk 4-year-olds who have not been in a childcare setting, with other eligibility factors including income, health and developmental status. Head Start, on the other hand, targets a wider age range, children ages 3 to 5, who are living below the poverty line. NCPK is also a state-funded, statewide program with a narrow focus, while Head Start is a federally-funded national program focused not only on students but their families.
“Head Start is a comprehensive program that looks at family in addition to the child, and helps low-income families become self-sufficient and parents are involved on Policy Councils in making decisions,” said Byrd. “With Smart Start, we’re concerned about that, but N.C. Pre-K is extremely specific. It has one purpose: school readiness.”
She is quick to point out the importance of both, and the overall shared goal of helping the county’s youth.
“There is a need for all these different programs,” she said. “The way they are, there are gaps where one program can meet needs that another one cannot. While a child may not be eligible for one program, they might fit into another.”
The Partnership for Children of Sampson County is located at 211 West Main St., Clinton. For more information on programs and services offered by the Partnership, or to inquire about N.C. Pre-Kindergarten, call 910-592-9399.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.