Centre Daily Times: Local educators respond to State of the Union address

January 13, 2016

It was a touching State of the Union address Tuesday night for at least one instructor at Penn State’s College of Education who said it made her proud to be an early childhood educator.

Linda Duerr said she was emotional when she saw President Barack Obama get a standing ovation when he mentioned prekindergarten should be available to all families in the country with young children.

“That’s a first,” she said. “It was the first time I have ever seen Congress stand up no matter what party, during the very brief mention to pre-K being more accessible for children. It was mindblowing for me, and gratifying.”

Obama has a vision to provide pre-K for all.

At least that’s what he said in his last State of the Union address Tuesday night when he spoke about presecondary education.

And it’s something he’s addressed the past couple of years.

But it’s also a vision that stretches beyond federal government.

A Pennsylvania-based campaign was established in 2014 to make sure every 3- and 4-year-old in the commonwealth has access to high-quality pre-K by 2018.

Pre-K for PA, according to the initiative’s website, has about 11,000 members involved in the fight to enhance preschool education.

The Pre-K for PA campaign supports an investment of $120 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year, allowing high-quality pre-K for an additional 14,000 children, a report from the initiative said.

But the fight is still there to get more pre-K or preschool programs in Centre County, especially in rural settings.

The biggest issues in pre-K are accessibility, affordability and quality, local educators said.

From educators

Some local educators said they’re seeing little effects of what Obama aimed to do, though they’re hopeful that could change.

“What needs to happen in order to get pre-K, especially in an area like Bald Eagle that doesn’t have any programs, of course, is funding,” said Jim Orichosky, Wingate Elementary School principal and district director of elementary education. “Funding is huge, and the ideal situation is that Bald Eagle, as a school district, would have its own fully funded pre-K program.”

Bald Eagle Area, according to district spokeswoman Rose Hoover, is a rural school district with about 1,670 students in four elementary schools and a combined middle and high school.

A full-day preschool program through CenClear Child Services, is, however, offered at Port Matilda and Wingate elementary schools.

Orichosky said the Philipsburg-based provider offers the program at no cost to the district. But it’s not available to all families of young children who live in the district.

“It’s income based, which I think is important, because you have families who work hard and want the best for their child, but cannot afford some programs,” Orichosky said. “On the other hand, there are other families in similar situations, but don’t meet requirements, which prevent them from sending their children to preschool.”

The CenClear preschool within the district serves 18 children, all 4 years old, Orichosky said.

“I think it’s a world education problem,” Orichosky said. “We’re not the only area. We had a lot of churches that had preschool, but they’re not functioning anymore. Our parents would have to go to Bellefonte or State College for preschool programs if they’re not eligible for CenClear. It’s inconvenient. We should be able to have a local preschool.”

Pre-K benefits

Educators think preschool should be a prerequisite for students heading into kindergarten.

And Duerr said it isn’t just about academics.

Read the full article here.