03/07/12 — More county children sought for new pre-kindergarten slots

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More county children sought for new pre-kindergarten slots

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 7, 2012 1:46 PM

The Partnership for Children of Wayne County received word from the state that it can enroll 45 more students in N.C. Pre-K classes starting next week.

"We did get notified that we were awarded 45 additional slots to add to the 543 that we currently serve," Valerie Wallace, assistant executive director, said Tuesday. "We will be serving children March -- next week, March 15 is our target date -- through July 31."

The program targets "at-risk" 4-year-olds, she said, with the criteria encompassing several things -- income eligibility determined by family size and gross income, a child with an identified disability or medical condition, English as a Second Language or educational need. Active military duty families are also eligible.

The announcement represents a temporary move, explained Charles Ivey, executive director of the Partnership.

"This is a one-time deal for kids that have not been served as 4-year-olds," he said. "The governor found this unspent money that had been allocated from DSS (Department of Social Services) and decided to use it for Pre-K to fill more needs, even in this short amount of time."

Gov. Bev Perdue had announced at the end of February that she planned to shift $9.3 million of unused child-care subsidy money to enroll an estimated 2,000 at-risk 4-year-olds on a limited basis. The money would be divided around the state and applied to enroll children in public and private preschools for a five-month period, beginning in March and wrapping in late July, just in time for students to go to kindergarten.

Ms. Wallace said her office is reaching out to unserved children who might benefit from the option.

"We're taking applications right now. We have revisited our waiting list to check on children that have previously applied," she said. "We have made a lot of phone calls, a lot of phone numbers have been disconnected. We have left messages."

For those who might not have previously applied, she said, efforts are being made through DSS to search rolls for potential candidates. Once applications are processed, the hope is to place as many as possible into locations receiving additional slots.

"We opened up three classrooms," Ivey said. "Being that it's a time-limited immediate need, we decided to look at locations and centers that had open classrooms."

Despite the abbreviated schedule, officials say it will be a boost for students planning to start school in the fall.

"Anytime that a child's able to spend time in a quality preschool classroom, it's going to give them a leg up and help prepare them for kindergarten," Ms. Wallace said. "I think the governor recognizes that and that's why the program was expanded to go to July.

"Five months of service for these children will hopefully benefit them and give them the baseline or some of the basic skills that they'll need for kindergarten."

For more information on the program, contact Ms. Wallace at 735-3371 ext. 231 or ext. 235, or visit the Partnership office, 800 N. William St., Monday through Thursday between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.