Hickman Mills School District will see some of its youngest students start school on Wednesday.
On the first day of school, the district is launching full-day pre-kindergarten for every 4-year-old in the district.
“A lot of students come to our school and they're just not kindergarten ready,” said Superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter. “Now we'll know what each of our kindergartners will know when they enter kindergarten.”
Not only is Hickman Mills starting full-day pre-k, it’s also offering it in a specialized center. The Ervin Early Learning Center is housed in a newly renovated building that was sitting empty in the district. Shawnda Fowler is the principal, previously an elementary principal within the district.
“It's very important to reach the kids at an early age because those are those building blocks,” Fowler said. “They'll have the tools that they will need to be successful adults.”
In the past, Hickman Mills offered pre-kindergarten for a limited number of students and it was a half-day program.
Tanessa Thomas’ two older children entered the lottery system and were selected to attend pre-kindergarten.
“My oldest daughter, she wasn't able to,” Thomas said. “And I can definitely see a difference between her learning and where she started off in kindergarten and the other two.”
Thomas’ youngest child, Bria, is among the first class of pre-kindergarten students starting at Ervin.
“A little bit anxious, this is my last one, so probably will have a couple of tears,” Thomas said. “But knowing she's coming to a fabulous place, a fabulous school and a district that's really going to support her, is going to ease that anxiety for me as a parent.”
Bethanie Cummings is teaching one of the pre-kindergarten classes. She was previously a kindergarten teacher in the district, so she has a clear understanding of what it takes for children to be ready for school.
“There were a lot of kids that came in not knowing anything, not knowing the difference between a letter or a number,” she said. “So even having those differences is something that is huge and can save so much time for a kindergarten teacher.”
Dr. Carpenter committed $9 million to this three-phase early learning project through a capital lease hold bond. By the beginning of 2015, all kindergarten students will be at Ervin, with the pre-kindergartners and the renovations will be complete.
To fund this project, Dr. Carpenter had to find ways to save money in other areas. For example, he said the district examined personnel and looked at how it hired substitutes. By making some changes there, Dr. Carpenter said they saved more than $1 million.
Dr. Carpenter said they also considered remedial courses for later grades in schools. By cutting back on some tutors and training teachers to provide extra help in the classroom, Dr. Carpenter said they were able to save money.
“We feel that we invest these dollars at the four-year-old level, then there's less of a need for remediation down the road,” he said.
Right now, there are more than 400 students enrolled in the pre-kindergarten program. Dr. Carpenter projects that number will grow up to 600 students. Half of them will be at Ervin. The other half will go to school at the Freda Markley Early Childhood Center.
Thomas said knowing Hickman Mills is investing in early education makes her feel better, not only about her children, but also her community.
“I'm feeling very renewed in the area,” she said. “I'm feeling very confident in the school.”