York Dispatch: OpEd: Quality pre-K prepares kids for school
August 1, 2019 by Ruthie Mohney, Northeastern School District

As a kindergarten teacher of nearly 17 years, I am often asked if I notice a difference between kids who have attended prekindergarten and those who have not. My answer is always the same: YES, YES, and YES!

As a new school year begins, I know I will see it again. Students coming into kindergarten from quality pre-K have an advantage over their peers who didn’t get the same opportunities.

That’s why I’m among the 96 percent of Pennsylvania kindergarten teachers who confirm what research has historically indicated — that children who attend high-quality, publicly funded pre-K enter kindergarten ready to succeed. We said so in a statewide survey from the Pre-K for PA campaign and the Pennsylvania State Education Association. Remarkably, 98 percent of my colleagues agree that high-quality, publicly funded pre-K is an important tool in preparing at-risk children for kindergarten.

Children who didn’t get high-quality pre-K are usually not as prepared for learning and less confident when they walk in on that first day of kindergarten. They are more hesitant to make friends, less confident to ask or answer a question, are less willing to share, and aren’t as ready to learn. I must spend more of my time teaching them academic fundamentals, such as literacy and numeracy, as well as classroom routines.

Research shows the varied benefits of high-quality, publicly funded pre-K:

  • Physical well-being: Regular physical activity is essential to the developing brain’s ability to gather, process, and understand information.
  • Social-emotional readiness: Teachers trained in developmentally appropriate practices guide young children in building peer relationships. When children get along and know how to control their impulses, every student in the classroom enjoys uninterrupted learning.
  • Brain development: In the first few years of life, the brain builds 1 million new neural connections every minute. Skilled caregivers deliver positive interactions and experiences that hardwire these connections and create the foundation for a lifetime of learning.
  • Early literacy development: No matter their family income, children who attend high-quality, publicly funded pre-K meet expected reading benchmarks by the time they finish third grade.

Fortunately, Pennsylvania lawmakers have long supported investments in early learning. Kindergarten teachers statewide, including me, thank them for their votes in June to approve $30 million more for pre-K in the 2019-20 state budget.

However, more needs to be done. In York County, 77 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds eligible for publicly funded pre-K don’t have access.

Children can’t wait. Every year of delay leaves another cohort of children behind their peers in academics and social skills. Continued support from our state policymakers in Harrisburg is our best chance to prepare every child for success in kindergarten and in life. I can’t wait for the day when people ask if every child in my classroom is thriving because they’ve all had high-quality pre-K, and I can say YES!

— Ruthie Mohney is a kindergarten teacher in Northeastern School District.

See the oped here.