Perhaps there are no more delightful sounds than three and four-year-old children laughing, singing and playing in the full-day preschool at Chautauqua.
If you listen carefully, you hear children conversing in Spanish and English while learning skills in math and literacy, learning to share and cooperate in a fun-loving environment.
Vashon School District successfully competed for a coveted state full-day early childhood education and assistance program contract in 2014. The district has been receiving an annual state allocation of close to $160,000 to host this classroom of 20 children ever since. This means the $30,000 the district contributes results in a $190,000 benefit to our students.
The existence of the preschool is also a testament to the engagement of our Latino Community who inspired VISD to reach for this contract in the first place by hosting fundraising events to provide scholarships to families needing preschool for their children. But the preschool is not just for Latino families. It serves 20 of the most vulnerable island families — identified using a state metric for family concerns.
Today about half of the preschool children come from the Latino community. The Vashon ECEAP preschool provides a safe harbor and opportunities for children through dynamic academic and social-emotional experiences. While their children are in the program, the preschool also provides opportunities for parents to use their time to go back to school, find a higher-wage job, improve language skills, secure affordable, safe housing, or increase their involvement in their child’s education. These generous and loving families are a vital part of our Island community.
According to a new report by the Washington State Department of Children Youth and families and a Harvard meta-analysis, children served by this program are:
- Academically and linguistically ready for kindergarten
- Less likely to be in special education
- More likely to graduate from high school and go on to college
- Less likely to become pregnant as a teen or become involved in a crime
- More likely to be employed and to earn more as an adult
In our school district, thanks to ECEAP, 20 children per year are more ready for kindergarten, saving tremendous resources over time.
We see this preschool as a powerful return on our investment in children and a program to celebrate. In multiple studies that compare half-day to full-day preschool outcomes, full-day participants demonstrated more kindergarten readiness in language, social-emotional development and literacy skills. This classroom is a vibrant, vital learning environment for children who have fewer opportunities.
Investing in early childhood education is a cost-effective strategy — even during a budget crisis. Short-term costs are more than offset by the immediate and long-term benefits through a reduction in the need for future special education and remediation, better health outcomes, reduced need for social services, and increased self-sufficiency and productivity among families.
Surprisingly, the ECEAP preschool has been targeted for reductions over the past two years. With no drop in enrollment, during the 2018 to 19 school year, the preschool staff was reduced from three to two full-time staff, leaving staff to serve and supervise 20 children aged three to five. Restoration of adequate staffing took a year-and-a-half and is temporarily in place now. Proposals that were made this year to reduce the program from full-day to half-day were met with protests from Comunidad Latina, Vashon Education Association, and Vashon Education support Personnel unions. In response, the school board, prioritizing children, showed their flexibility and support by tasking the superintendent to find a way to fund the program in full.
Thank you to the Vashon Island school board for listening, learning, and working to address the unique needs of our island’s most vulnerable populations, showing us all what equity in action looks like.
Gail Labinski and Roxanne Hood Lyons are childhood advocates and educators.