MUNCIE — As the 17 students in Hope Moore’s preschool class lined up to go play outside, she told them to put a bubble in their mouth and keep their hands behind their back.
Each child puffed out their cheeks. It was a reminder that they need to stay quiet while walking through the hallway of Sutton Elementary.
Wednesday was the third day Head Start spent in its new classroom in Sutton. Head Start officials estimate that it has been 10 years since the class has been held outside of the program’s building on Wysor Street.
Muncie Community Schools does not offer a preschool program. No school districts in Delaware County offer one, which Carrie Bales, the director of BY5, finds problematic.
BY5 is an organization that emphasizes the important brain development a child experiences between the ages of 0-5. Last year Bales, along with task forces, put together a list of goals for Delaware County. She hopes to meet all those goals by spreading awareness and pairing organizations to create opportunities for families and children ages 0-5.
Bales decided MCS needed a “creative solution” for how to offer students preschool. So last year she helped pair up Head Start with Muncie Schools.
In Indiana, districts are not required to provide preschool, and before 2014 there was no state funding for preschools. Schools are required to provide half-day kindergarten, and those students are included in the state funding formula.
Many local childcare and preschool programs are run through churches and most aren’t free. Head Start specifically serves low-income families.
Sutton Principal Eric Grim said the expectations for a student entering kindergarten are a lot higher than when he was a child. They are expected to know colors, numbers and letters. They also need to recognize their written name.
When Bales and BY5 helped MCS created Kickoff to Kindergarten — a three-week camp that teaches students who didn’t attend preschool basic skills and behaviors they need to start school — a couple of years ago, she also created a kindergarten readiness survey. Teachers check off the skills on the list that their students have on day one.
Survey results showed that last year 53 percent of MCS kindergarten students were considered “not ready” for kindergarten. BY5 also found that about half of the students did not attend preschool.
As a whole, the class had low scores in overall language, early literacy and staying on task.
In her class at Head Start, Moore works on social and emotional skills as well as the basics. She monitors their progress using the Frog Tree program, a curriculum Sutton also uses.
Having classes at Sutton allows Head Start students to get familiar with the building and routine. Some students have older siblings at the school. Grim said they plan to have older students volunteer to read to the preschoolers.
The two preschool teachers, each of whom teaches two part-day sessions, met with kindergarten teachers at Sutton to discuss what skills the students need.
All of this could help a family become more comfortable with a school and could help MCS retain students in the future, Bales said.
Grim said he could see the program expanding to different elementary schools.
Muncie Schools Superintendent Steven Baule said he welcomes the partnership.
“In a perfect world we would provide a strong early childhood experience for every child,” he said.
Contact families & education reporter Emma Kate Fittes at 765-213-5845 and follow @EmmaKate_TSP