City hopes to increase pre-K access

After a two-year review of the city’s schools, the New Haven Early Childhood Council — a New Haven based nonprofit committed to ensuring quality early education for all — released a report that aims to help measure year-to-year access to prekindergarten programs, outreach to families and expanded health care coverage for children through age 8.

The report, which was released this month after two years of research, recommends measuring progress by regularly considering five indicators: kindergartner proficiency on literacy assessments, third-grader proficiency on reading assessments, births to mothers without a high school or equivalent diploma, the rate of child neglect and abuse, and the percentage of children through age 8 who are enrolled in state health insurance with regular medical checkups.

Although she had kind words for the city’s current pre-K programs — including magnet preschools, the New Haven School Readiness program and the federal Head Start program — Evelyn Robles-Rivas, principal of Worthington Hooker School on Canner Street, stressed the importance of expanding them.

“Children come to kindergarten without knowing how to identify colors and shapes or hold a pencil,” she said.

Indeed, the report highlights several issues facing early education in New Haven. For instance, according to the report, child abuse and neglect were three times higher in New Haven than in the rest of Connecticut. Additionally, 71 percent of third graders statewide achieved proficiency in reading, compared with only 38 percent of New Haven third graders, the report said.

“We have high expectations for kindergartners,” Robles-Rivas said, “so it is difficult when the basics have to be taught.”

But co-Chairwoman of the NHECC Jennifer Heath said she remains optimistic because funding for education has remained stable despite the difficult economic times. Heath explained that funds for the Early Childhood Plan came from a grant through the Graustein Memorial Fund, in addition to city and state sources. “There have been some cuts,” Heath explained, “but all things considered, we’ve been very fortunate.”

NHECC officials hope to capitalize on recent improvements in pre-K registration. According to the NHECC Plan, 73 percent of kindergartners entered school in 2008 with some pre-K experience, compared to 64 percent in 2001.

Robert Windom, co-chairman of the NHECC, also said he was encouraged by progress made in family outreach. There has been a concerted effort to advertise pre-K registration, in addition to informational meetings at community centers. And recently, Windom said, fewer parents are resisting sending their kids to preschool.

“There is the expectation that kids will be going to school at a young age,” he said.

Additionally, he said he is optimistic about the future for the young children of New Haven.

“The message is out there, and the community is responding,” Windom said.

According the Office of the Mayor of New Haven, the city’s early child care and education system is the largest in the state.

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