Partnership - More at Four
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 26, 2012 1:50 AM
Spring Creek Elementary School teacher Tammy Smith talks with Megan Sutton, 4, left and Zachary Walker, 4, about their classes and introduces them to the More at Four program Thursday night during open house at the school.
For 10 years, the state's More at Four program has prepared children for kindergarten, but this year fewer local students are having the opportunity to attend -- despite Partnership for Children of Wayne County receiving the same amount of money as last year.
Valerie Wallace, assistant executive director of Partnership for Children of Wayne County, which oversees More at Four, explained the reduction in slots was because of a new rate structure at the state level.
"The pot of money is the same but the amount that it costs to send the children through the program has gone up," explained Whitney Jansta, community services coordinator.
Based on the new rate structure, the Partnership will serve 502 children this school year. That is down from last year, when the number was at 543.
"There's been a lot of counties to have lost slots based on the new structure," Ms. Wallace said.
Wayne County currently has 30 More at Four classrooms -- 11 in the public schools, four Head Start sites and 15 in private childcare facilities.
Ms. Wallace can recall when the program was first introduced in the state.
"More at Four started in Wayne County in 2002, so we have been going strong for 10 years," she said. "I helped write the pilot grant to get it started in Wayne County. We started with 54 (children).
"We have been up and down, increased to 678, and have decreased over the last couple of years."
Many of the changes can be attributed to the economy.
But there is no denying the program's importance, the officials said.
"The NC Pre-K program has really been a model program to children who are 4 years old or ready for kindergarten so that they're ready to learn," Mrs. Jansta said. "The kids that we serve may not have that opportunity any other place."
It is a "high-quality program for children who are at-risk," she added, pointing out that candidates have to qualify to attend. So, the fact that there is a perpetual waiting list illustrates the need, as well as the interest among parents.
Shelly Willis, program specialist at the Partnership for the NC Pre-K program, keeps tabs on the waiting list.
"(We have) 150-plus that have come in the last few days," she said. "They're coming in very steadily, so it's growing daily."
Some of that is due to military and families moving in and out of the area, especially with a new school year starting, Ms. Wallace said.
On average, the More at Four classrooms serve 18 students each in the five-day-a-week, six-and-one-half-hour program.
It helps that the Partnership boasts a "really good relationship" with the private child care facilities and public school system, Mrs. Jansta said.
"We have done everything we can to maintain those relationships," she said. "Other counties don't have that great relationship. We're glad we can maintain that but we never want to lose slots."
It's a challenge to be at capacity, and that's where the Partnership again finds itself on the threshold of another school year, which starts most places on Monday.
Having to determine where to make cuts is difficult, but the choice is not one that rests with the Partnership. A Pre-K committee handles that.
"Any time we cut slots or services for children, it's never an easy decision," Mrs. Jansta said. "They're very serious about who do we cut from?
"One thing this county always tries to do is look geographically. We looked at things like who lost slots last year -- last year we had funding cuts, had been serving 678 children and dropped to 543 -- the highest waiting lists waiting to be served, the impact it would have on taking them from one particular agency."
Despite being told not to expect additional funding, Ms. Wallace said there is always hope.
"You just never know what's going to happen at the state level," she said. "Last year we were able to receive expansion slots -- that happened in February, (we got) 45 additional ones."
Because of that, plus the potential turnover at the sites, applications for More at Four are accepted year-round.
"We want to encourage families to come fill out applications," Ms. Willis said. "They can complete applications here at the Partnership, the other pre-K sites in the community. Documentation is required -- birth certificate, proof of income, a current physical and shot records and insurance cards."
The office, at 800 N. William Street, is open Monday through Thursday, or call (919) 735-3371, ext. 235 or 231.