Quality pre-kindergarten programs in a caring, trained environment are one of the greatest boosts to a child’s overall education, both in school and for their lifetime. They are beneficial for the children themselves, as well as for the community at large.
Although research in this area has been documented since the 1960s in national Head Start studies, the findings remain consistent through today. They indicate that to improve the quality of preschool education is to help the whole being of the child their whole life long. The effects are strongest among certain subgroups of children, particularly Hispanic and African-American children, dual-language learners, children who are homeless or in foster care, those who qualify for free lunch and those whose mothers didn’t graduate high school. When a mother is especially engaged in the child’s educational endeavors, the return is even greater.
Since 2014, the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend have worked to improve the quality and depth of their pre-K programs.
Following national standards, numerous schools of the diocese have been certified through the national Pathways to Quality program. As a result, they now can accept students who qualify for On My Way Pre-K assistance.
“There is work being done by a number of preschool programs within Catholic schools of the diocese to reach Level 3 accreditation through Paths to Quality, a step needed in order to become an On My Way Pre-K-certified school. On My Way Pre-K schools receive state funding for low-income preschool students to attend a quality pre-K program, thus giving those students a head start on quality educational programing and later success in elementary school,” stated Marsha Jordan, superintendent.
The goal of achieving Level 3 engaged the whole pre-K community of teachers, administrators and staff. Level 1 focused on health and safety standards, such as access to updated, child-appropriate restrooms and sinks as well as the health and well-being of the adults instructing the children. Level 2 addressed the learning environment for the students, such as the accessibility and utilization of age-appropriate materials — that literacy materials are readily available, and the space is designed with the pre-school child in mind. This means that leaning tools are on their eye level, the room is pleasing, welcoming and nurturing and for many basic tools like new furniture.
Level 3 focused mainly on planned curriculum, where teachers received ongoing professional development and used their knowledge and skills to prepare students for school readiness programs such as High Scope.
Holy Family School, South Bend, received its Level 3 certification in September and now is able to welcome On My Way students. Principal Jennifer Veldman admitted, “Holy Family is ecstatic about earning Level 3 On My Way Pre-K status. It certainly was a lot of hard work. However, with the support of Kacey Deverell and the Early Childhood Alliance Cohort team, many of the schools within the diocese have been able to complete the mission we so greatly wanted to achieve. Since the summer of 2018, Holy Family has transformed our pre-K classroom to create additional space for capacity: Holy Family can now take up to 24 pre-K students. Our pre-K teacher, Donna Bella, is now a certified High Scope instructor. We are extremely grateful to Family Connection for their assistance with obtaining a thorough curriculum to advance our program. (And) Bella has also attended Minds in Motion training to implement for the 2019-20 school year.”
“With the amount of changing needing to be made, we are extremely thankful to the support of several grants,” Veldman added. “Through the Registered Ministry Grant that was awarded to us, we have been able to purchase new classroom materials and equipment, replace several items needed to meet the state requirements for On My Way Pre-K, and our pre-K staff will attend the High Scope International Conference this coming May. Honestly, all in all, this has been a time-consuming process, yet truly rewarding as we are hopeful to greatly grow our pre-K program,” she said.
“The benefits of a high-quality preschool program ripple throughout the entire school community. The little 3-year-olds first learning how to make finger rosaries out of pipe cleaners quickly grow to eighth-graders preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation. What a blessing it is to be taught in a Catholic school environment from one’s earliest school days!”
Holy Cross School in South Bend welcomed its first On My Way students this fall, both for their traditional and dual-language programs. They, along with Holy Family, St. Adalbert School and St. Jude School in South Bend, Queen of Peace School in Mishawaka, St. John the Baptist School in New Haven and St. Therese School and Queen of Angels School in Fort Wayne are looking forward to completing the fourth and final level of certification in the near future. St. Joseph Pre-School in South Bend and St. Joseph School in Fort Wayne already received their Level 4 certification and accept On My Way students.
Families are welcome to apply for the On My Way Pre-K programs and to visit the updated preschool classrooms during open houses for Catholic Schools Week. Visit the individual schools for dates and times and check https://www.in.gov/fssa/pathstoquality/3735.htm for more information about qualifying.
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