Inner-city Ogden preschool helps kids get a better start

Jan 20 2014 - 1:17pm

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OGDEN -- A small file of 4-year-olds carefully balanced papers with round cereals and letter "Os" as they tried to form a line to walk out of their new preschool room at James Madison Elementary.

"It's only our third day, so our friends are just getting the hang of things," said preschool teacher Heather Shaffer.

The students are in a group of about 27 so far in a pilot program launched by Ogden School District, YMCA, Ogden City and United Way to create a chance for underprivileged, inner-city Ogden kids to attend preschool to get a leg up for kindergarten.

The program is part of the Ogden United Promise Neighborhood Initiative.

Tim Jackson oversees the initiative, which is a federal grant to improve education and lifestyles for youths in the area. He said each entity is pitching in about $20,000 to pilot the program that will run through July.

Those running the preschool are hoping to demonstrate a vital need for the preschool by showing how much more the preschoolers know as they head into kindergarten.

While James Madison Principal Vincent Ardizzone isn't running the preschool, he is in full support of the program. "I observe, and I integrate. This is only going to help my school."

Ardizzone said the struggle is real for students who enter kindergarten with no school preparation. Last year, only three of his kindergarten students passed the kindergarten readiness pre-tests.

He would like to see that change and is having the kindergarten teachers work with the preschool to help integrate the students.

The goal is for all the preschool students to come from James Madison boundaries so officials can get a true picture of whether the preschool program helps the students as they start kindergarten and beyond to other grades.

Right now, 27 students from the James Madison area are enrolled, but Jackson and Angela Wright, YMCA regional director for Weber County, feel confident that word of mouth and persistence will make those numbers grow to the goal of 50.

"There is no doubt that we can find preschool students in the other school areas if we need to," Wright said. Other schools that can be targeted include Dee, Odyssey, T.O. Smith and Gramercy.

The program is mirrored after Granite School District's pre-kindergarten program that is integrated in the whole district.

Wright said the program has been highly successful. Huge results are already being seen, even though the program has been running only a few years. Research has shown that, of the 737 students enrolled in the program, 238 tested as needing special education.

After the pre-K preschool program, only 11 needed special education. Jackson and Wright feel confident those same results will occur in Ogden.

The four collaborators have only committed to financing the program this year but are in full support of helping to find funding sources. They are also not ruling out petitioning the Legislature. The goal is to have a preschool for all inner city Ogden schools.

The preschool is free or low-cost based on income. Jackson said there are approximately 900 3- and 4-year-olds in the inner-city Ogden demographic. Two-hundred of those students are serviced by Head Start, and the other 700 are left with virtually nothing.

"Some of them are in pockets where their parents can afford a private preschool, but for the most part, there has been nothing up to this point," Jackson said.

The district also offers a special-needs preschool that serves about 50 students.

Jackson feels encouraged that the preschool is only the beginning of a change for the students in the district. "The support of the school district and the city speaks volumes that they support this and know it is important."

Half-day sessions will be provided two days a week for 3-year-olds and four days a week for 4-year-olds.

Learn more by visiting the YMCA administrative office at 893 24th St., Ogden, or www.ymcautah.org/preschool/jamesmadison.

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