When does something important become a priority?
In Forsyth County, we’ve built an amazing coalition of educators and leaders who want this community to make Pre-K a priority. Not just important, but a priority. The coalition, aptly named The Pre-K Priority, wants every four-year-old in Forsyth County to have access to high-quality, affordable Pre-K.
“The future of our community is four years old,” said Bob Feikema, CEO of Family Services, which is convening The Pre-K Priority. “We need to make sure these children are able to reach their full potential with a high-quality start to their educational journeys.”
The pillars of The Pre-K Priority include following nationally recognized best practices for Pre-K, employing credentialed, caring, and well-compensated teachers, and providing parents with a choice of Pre-K settings, whether in the school system, or in private community childcare centers, or at Head Start.
Pre-K Accessible and Affordable for Every Four-Year-Old
Currently, in Forsyth County, only one-third of our children attend a publicly-funded Pre-K program. And 1,200 children who qualify for these publicly-funded programs are not enrolled, due to the lack of funds. By making Pre-K available to every four-year-old, we can begin to bridge these gaps. Research shows that high-quality, early learning through Pre-K better prepares children for kindergarten, increases test scores, and results in higher graduation rates and college attendance.
“In many ways, I wish we didn’t call it Pre-K, because that’s really a misnomer,” said Dr. Paula Grubbs, Director of Pre-K Programs for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. “With Pre-K, we’re not just preparing our children for kindergarten; we’re helping to prepare them for life.”
A Harvard Study Provides the Tipping Point
The Pre-K Priority initiative assumed even greater urgency when, in 2017, a Harvard University study came out that ranked Forsyth County as the fifth-worst out of 2,873 counties in the nation for helping poor children move up the economic ladder.
“Securing high-quality early education for our children is one important way we can help them realize better and brighter futures,” Feikema said. “The first five years are a once-only window of opportunity to develop the social, emotional, cognitive, and academic readiness that enables children to succeed later in life.”
Building Community around High-Quality Pre-K for All
The Pre-K Priority has launched a community awareness and education effort funded by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust to better inform families, as well as community leaders about the importance of Pre-K for every four-year-old.
The Trust also commissioned a Pre-K feasibility study by Forsyth Futures (released this spring), which underscored key community concerns, including affordability and access. As part of the survey, nearly two out of every three families responded that there were not enough available high-quality Pre-K slots. Rising costs were another issue. According to the study, the median cost of a five-star, full-day Pre-K is $743 per month—unaffordable for most families.
“When my wife and I were researching Pre-K options for our younger daughter, we were shocked by how different the landscape was from just five years ago,” said Forsyth County resident Darryl Shaw. “There were fewer programs, and costs had increased.”
Shaw and his wife had their daughter screened through the NC Pre-K program, and she was accepted into a classroom at Bolton Elementary School.
“Before going to Pre-K, she was extremely shy,” Shaw said. “Now, she can’t wait to get to school. Every morning, she’s got her backpack on and then literally runs from the car to her classroom. If that’s not a love for learning, I don’t know what is!”
Investing in Our Pre-K Priority
In early 2020, The Pre-K Priority submitted a two-year funding proposal to the Forsyth County Commissioners to increase the quality of existing Pre-K classrooms and begin adding new ones. The group hopes Forsyth County will join Mecklenburg, Durham, and Buncombe counties, which are already using local tax dollars to significantly improve the quality, and increase the number, of Pre-K classrooms.
“The time is now to make Pre-K a priority by funding high-quality Pre-K programs in Forsyth County on behalf of our youngest children,” Feikema said.
The Pre-K Priority invites everyone in Forsyth County to show their support by signing The Pre-K Pledge on its website, PreKPriority.org, or through The Pre-K Priority’s social media channels.