APS Column: Early childhood programming at Austin Public Schools

Published 5:52 pm Friday, February 2, 2024

By Jennifer Lawhead

Community Education Director

The Minnesota Department of Education has created a model, called the Successful Learner Equation, which shows the entire community’s role in preparing students to be ready for school.

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This model recognizes that children are always learning and have experiences, skills, and knowledge that are tied to their family’s culture. In this model, diversity of all types is celebrated and instruction for learners should be individualized and developmentally appropriate. Finally, the model indicates that schools must be joyful and welcoming to all and the adults and systems should support all children where they are in their learning profession.

Rather than placing the sole responsibility on children, the Successful Learner Equation emphasizes that adults need to take an active role in the educational journey of young learners. Holding adults responsible for children being “ready for kindergarten,” the Successful Learner Equation focuses on ready families, communities, schools and programs, and a ready state. As we consider successful learners, the community also has a responsibility to support the health, safety, economic stability, and development of young children and their families.

Families with young children in Austin are fortunate to have a community that already supports our early learners. We have a beautiful and welcoming public library and engaging learning opportunities at the SPAM Museum and Hormel Nature Center. Our United Way supports transportation to local preschool for some families and Austin Aspires partners with community schools as parents navigate the world of early childhood education. We also have a wide variety of preschool opportunities for children in Austin.

During the winter and early spring, local preschools accept registrations for the following school year. This year, Austin Public Schools’ preschool registration (for the 2024-2025 school year) opens on March 5, 2024. We have four day a week programming for three- and four-year-old students. We receive funding from the state of Minnesota that offers scholarships for three-year-olds who meet the financial requirements and for all four-year-olds in our Voluntary PreK program.

Our community’s goal should be that every child who wants to attend preschool can attend a high-quality program. One of the reasons for this is that researchers from Harvard (Harvard Gazette, Feb. 6, 2018) found that children who attend high-quality preschool programs “develop better language, math, and literacy skills as well as stronger social and emotional connections than those who don’t attend.”

A high-quality preschool experience not only benefits the child in attendance. There is also a positive economic impact on their community. According to the Heckman Equation Project, the “rate of return for investments in early childhood education for disadvantaged children is 7-10% per annum through better outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity, and reduced crime.”

We have an opportunity to support the economic vitality of our community and positively impact children’s lives through the participation in a high-quality preschool experience. Please encourage your friends and family with young children to register for preschool this spring and think of ways in which your community organizations can support the education of our littlest learners.