Bobby Ott

Bobby Ott

Heading into this school year, educators across the state were challenged with preparing for a year unlike any other. As districts approach the end of the first grading period, we have acclimated to these atypical, but temporary, operating procedures and now have the opportunity to consider the impacts of COVID that aren’t immediately noticeable.

I’ll give you an example of one that has been on my mind lately: the decrease in Pre-K enrollment across the state is concerning.

Just this week, The Dallas Morning News reported that Dallas ISD is down about 3,500 Pre-K students, or 29 percent, compared to last year. Fort Worth ISD has seen a 38 percent decrease.

Here, in Temple ISD, we are down 125 students at Meridith-Dunbar Early Childhood Academy — the district’s Pre-K campus. This is truly a statewide and, most likely, a nationwide phenomenon.

Future impact

Though it is mandatory for districts to provide at least a half-day Pre-K option for eligible 4-year-olds, Pre-K is not a mandatory grade-level for children to attend. I think this has contributed to the drop in the number of Pre-K students enrolled across the state, but what needs to be taken into account is the overwhelmingly positive effect that Pre-K participation has on the whole of a student’s education.

Research shows that the most brain development occurs by age 5, and that getting high-quality instruction early is more effective than any other intervention by schools or society later in a child’s life.

By enrolling children in a Pre-K program, parents immerse them in an environment that stimulates their social-emotional, cognitive and language development. Exposing children to routine in a school environment and the delivery of high-quality academic instruction will help students focus on content and curriculum when they reach the elementary levels.

We also know that access to early learning is an indicator for future learning success. This can ultimately have long-term impacts on the future economic well-being of these children.

Pre-K in Temple ISD

Several years ago, Temple ISD ran a cohort study that showed students who participated in our Pre-K program outperformed students who did not by 15 percent in third-grade reading results. This is the very reason we moved from a half-day to a full-day Pre-K program. The state only provides districts funding for a half day, but our district believed enough in the impact and value of our Pre-K program to build the second, unfunded half of the day into our budget.

We currently have space available at our Pre-K campus. In fact, we’re opening enrollment up to 3-year-olds, provided there is space available. This would be a significant educational advantage for these children because, theoretically, they could participate in a district-sponsored Pre-K program for two years prior to entering kindergarten.

As we see a rise in the number of K-12 students choosing to return to on-campus learning, it is important to let families know their Pre-K students, if eligible, also can return. I want to encourage parents who recently have regained or are seeking employment to look at our Pre-K program for their young children. Parents may believe that the enrollment window has passed, but it has not.

We began another push for Pre-K for enrollment on Oct. 8. Registration is available online or over the phone by calling Meridith-Dunbar directly at 254-215-6700. In addition, we are holding an in-person Pre-K roundup from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday on campus at 1717 E. Ave. J in Temple.

I completely understand a family’s hesitation in enrolling a student to attend school for the first time amid a pandemic, but I think it is important they know our Pre-K students and staff at Meridith-Dunbar are doing an excellent job adhering to safety protocols. In fact, to date, we have not had any reported positive COVID cases at our Pre-K campus.

For those who are still concerned, we also offer remote instruction options for Pre-K. Though it is more difficult to engage such young learners virtually, the important thing is to introduce them to early academic instruction.

Temple ISD is sensitive to the changing needs of our families — which is why we always have preserved parents’ choice in instructional delivery for their kids. Our school district, like our parents, have had to make so many changes over the last few months, but, if we continue to work together, we can adapt to meet the needs of your children, our students and their futures.