For many parents in Jackson County, the thought of providing their 4-year-old child with a quality preschool education was simply a pipedream in the past, due to trying economic circumstances. But in Fall 2015, 65 children from low-income families in the rural county had a much stronger support to get kindergarten-ready, thanks to the state’s first publicly funded pre-kindergarten pilot program and capacity building support from funders including Partnerships for Early Learners.
After launching in Allen, Lake, Marion, and Vanderbaugh counties in January 2015, On My Way Pre-K arrived in Jackson County last fall, allowing the Jackson County Education Coalition to adequately prepare for this big step forward. With a population of 43,466, Jackson County is the only one of these counties considered “rural.” With this in mind, informing the community of On My Way Pre-K’s launch was crucial.
“We did a lot of door-to-door and personal relationship building,” says former Jackson County Education Coalition Executive Director Dan Hodge. “I think that is how we were able to move the needle so far.”
A Focus on Quality & Access
Throughout the state, early childhood programs have been striving to raise their quality of education, using the state’s Paths to QUALITY™ rating system as a measure of success. Just in 2014, there were only three Pre-K providers in Jackson County that achieved ratings of Level 3 or Level 4 (while Levels 1 and 2 reflect a program’s health, safety and environment, Levels 3 and 4 demonstrate planned curriculum and national quality accreditation). Since that time, however, the county has more than quadrupled this number, with a total of 13. As word of quality education spreads in the county, it is expected that more and more providers will meet these ratings, too, consequently leading to more and more quality Pre-K opportunities for all Jackson County children.
Families have also been very excited about this recent push for quality education in the county as well. Especially for low-income parents, On My Way Pre-K has been nothing short of a blessing. In particular, Hodge remembers hearing of a teary-eyed single mother who just couldn’t believe that her child would be able to receive quality Pre-K schooling for free. “It’s all about that,” he says.
The Power of Language & Learning
Sara Blubaugh was the lone teacher at Child Care Network’s Brown Elementary Preschool in 2015—one of the 13 programs approved for On My Way Pre-K student enrollment in Jackson County. Between her morning and afternoon classes, there were 21 children receiving On My Way Pre-K vouchers. Based in a predominantly Latino community, many of these children speak English as a second language, which has made the bilingual Blubaugh a great fit for the teaching job.
Last year, Blubaugh was also been equipped with all of the classroom materials she needs, thanks to a capacity building grant funded by Early Learning Indiana’s Partnerships for Early Learners. This really made things a lot less stressful on her too.
“There were times before where it was like, ‘We don’t have this. Do I make the choice of going and buying it myself, or do we just do without it?’ Because the preschool didn’t have the funding for it,” Blubaugh reflects. “Now the students have a variety of resources and they never get bored with the same repetitive thing. The children stay more engaged and learning stays enjoyable and interesting.”
Want to learn more about expanding a program’s capacity with a grant from Partnerships for Early Learners? Learn more about our current funding opportunity today. Nonprofit centers, schools and family home providers that will be at Paths to QUALITY™ Level 3 or 4 when funding is awarded may apply to the first stage grant application by September 22, 2016, to be considered for stage two of this process. Due to restrictions on the funds that support this work, programs located in Marion, Hamilton, Boone, Hancock, and Hendricks Counties are not eligible to apply.