District 622 receives state funding to send more children to pre-k for free

School District 622 is one of 59 districts to receive state funding for voluntary school-based pre-kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds. These districts were announced by Governor Mark Dayton Aug. 4.

Christine Osorio, superintendent of the district, which encompasses North St. Paul, Maplewood and Oakdale, explained that pre-k programs are important because they help children get acclimated to the school environment and school rituals. She added that they help build a number of skills including pre-literacy, pre-math, motor skills, social and emotional skills and vocabulary.

“There’s a huge vocabulary gap right away coming to school for students who have not had a lot of exposure to schooling environments or to high-quality pre-k programs,” Osorio said. “And so it really gives students a leg up when they’re starting kindergarten.”

According to Osorio, the Achievement Gap begins when students are young.

“But when they’re young the gap is still small — like you can close it ... But if you wait until students are older it’s harder to close that gap,” she added.

District 622 offers programs for 4-year-olds at seven locations throughout the area. Several of these pre-k programs are located at elementary schools, including Carver Elementary in Maplewood, Castle Elementary and Oakdale Elementary in Oakdale, and Richardson Elementary and Webster Elementary in North St. Paul. 

While these programs are available to children who live near the schools, pre-k programs are also offered at two early learning centers in the district. Programs at Beaver Lake Education Center and Gladstone Community Center are open to any child in the district.


Program to grow

Last year, the Minnesota Department of Education provided District 622 with about $350,000 in recurring funding to allow some 4-year-olds to attend the pre-k program at Richardson and Webster elementary schools for free. 

This year the Legislature added nearly $800,000 so that an additional 144 students can attend pre-k programs for free for the next two school years. The district recently revealed that the funded locations include Castle, Oakdale and Carver elementary schools and Gladstone Education Center, which serves students from Weaver Elementary.

Because the funding is coming in so close to the Sept. 11 first day of pre-k, Osorio said the slots will be filled on a first come first serve basis, but she added that the district is working on a different system to award these free slots for next year.

“One of the goals with this new voluntary pre-k money is that it can be attached as much as possible to schools,” Osorio explained, noting that this stipulation is likely to help transition pre-k into the school system as an official grade, making the standard school system run from pre-k through 12th grade.

Community Education Director Terri Johnson explained that this stipulation aligns well with the district’s goal to increase the connections between pre-k and kindergarten, which is easier to do when they are located in the same building. 

Osorio said that although the curriculum is different in a pre-k classroom, some of the rituals and routines will be the same to help students feel more comfortable when they enter kindergarten.


Despite growth, classes remain small

The last-minute funding doesn’t necessarily mean large class sizes.

“We’ve been trying to expand our programming each year as we’re able with space and with funding,” Johnson said. “We’ve been trying to plan out to have these spaces — to expand with intention, even though we didn’t know yet about the funding.”

As a result, the new free pre-k slots will not negatively impact the student/teacher ratio in classrooms — the classes will have no more than 20 students with two teachers to maintain the 10:1 pre-k ratio, Johnson explained.

Current pre-k programs are two and a half hours a day and vary between two and five days a week with some bussing available at all sites. Programming at the early learning centers also is available for 3-year-olds, though the state funding targets programs for 4-year-olds that run four and five days per week. 

A five day program costs about $285 per month without any financial assistance; however, there is an option for sliding scale fees and scholarships, if children are unable to get into the programs offering free enrollment. 

District 622 is still enrolling students, but some of the pre-k programs already have a waiting list.

“There’s always going to be a need that’s greater [than the funding],” Osorio said, then added, “A lot of districts did not get any funding, so we were very, very fortunate that we did.”

For more information and to check on availability, call 651-702-8411.


Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com


Rate this article: 
Average: 4.5 (2 votes)
Comment Here