COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools administrators have begun conversations with early childhood education programs about the possibility of the programs moving into the Field Elementary School building.
The site would house early childhood programs that are currently spread throughout the city. The building might include both district-run and nonprofit organizations. Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said he is consulting the directors of early childhood programs and expects to form a committee to make plans for the building in September or October.
Once the committee is formed, it will come up with recommendations for the school board. The specific responsibilities of the committee have not been determined. They could include a recommendation for programs to be included, organization of the building, a building name, and any construction required. The school board will make all final decisions.
“It will be a place where early childhood services come together in one location so that families can access these types of services without running from one place to another all over town,” Jensen said.
Proposed organizations were notified through informal conversations of the possibility of their programs moving to the Field building. Other organizations can still make requests to the committee once it is formed.
Title I Preschool, a federally funded program operated by Columbia Public Schools, works with children ages 3-5 on developmental skills and is one of the potential programs that could move to Field. Right now, it offers a half-day program throughout 12 schools in Columbia for free to students who are developmentally delayed and at-risk children. If Title I were located in the Field building, then those students would no longer attend class at participating schools. All Title I Preschools would not be relocated to the Field building. All plans for the building are still tentative.
“It will continue to be distributed through the schools, but we will be able to pull some of those classrooms into Field Elementary,” Jensen said. “Crowding in our school buildings is a real issue, so if we’re able to open up a classroom or two, like, for instance, at Derby Ridge and take those preschool classes to Field, that gives Derby Ridge room to grow.”
Meanwhile, representatives from prospective programs said they were excited by the idea of having a central location.
Phil Peters, executive director of First Chance for Children, said having one location would make it cheaper and easier to communicate with parents and colleagues.
“We would be very interested in having our offices in a central location to improve childhood education,” Peters said.
First Chance for Children is a nonprofit organization that provides free services for families and helps create community awareness about early childhood education. The program works to prepare parents with high-risk children for elementary school. First Chance for Children also administers state funding, including scholarships for training and grants for caregivers.
Parents as Teachers Director Belinda Masters agreed.
“Having an Early Childhood Center has been a dream of the early childhood program coordinators for a long time,” Masters said. “Having a central location will benefit parents as they access a variety of early childhood services as well as for professionals from the three different early childhood programs to be able to work together to best serve parents with young children.”
Under the proposal from Columbia Public Schools, Field Elementary
School could become a central home for various early childhood
education programs around the city. Here’s a run down on which programs
might take part:
• Head Start: Works with Title I Preschool to offer full-day programs for children including parent involvement and health services to low-income families. The program is located at 403 Park Ave., and its building would not close.
• Jump Start: Sends volunteer college students to read with children.
n Parents as Teachers: The program uses highly trained educators to visit homes of children from birth to five years old and teach parents about development skills. It also offers developmental screenings and meetings for parents and children to interact with other families. It is located at 555 Vandiver Road.
• Early Childhood Special Education: The program provides education and services to children with special needs. Some of the services include speech and occupational therapy. Early Childhood Special Education is located at 4001 Waco Road. The offices are located at 555 Vandiver Drive. If included in the Field building, the Waco Road building would still remain open.
• First Chance for Children: The organization also has playrooms with developmental toys for children to play called Lend and Learn Toy Libraries. The toys can be borrowed. The Lend and Learn Libraries also provide books to read with children and information for parents. information for parents and books to read with children. Headquarters are located at 1123 Wilkes Boulevard Blvd, Learn and Learn Toy Libraries are located at 1200 Wilkes Blvd. Boulevard and the Community Room at Blind Boone Community Center, 301 N. Providence Road.
Sources: Columbia Public Schools Web site, Jack Jensen, Parents as Teachers, Jumpstart, First Chance for Children