Early childhood education is an important aspect of a child's future development, and area preschool teachers and administrators are making sure that every 4-year-old in Fort Dodge has the opportunity to receive a quality preschool experience.
Fort Dodge is one of several area schools that have received a grant from the Iowa state department of education to allow free tuition to anyone in the Fort Dodge community wanting to send their children to preschool, said Grant Coordinator Lis Ristau.
Fort Dodge first received the grant for the 2008-2009 school year, and will retain the funding for a cycle of four years.
"We want to get the word out to parents that preschool is available at no cost," Tammy McNeil, director of Childcare Discovery Center Preschool said. "Tuition is free, and some of the schools will even provide transportation for the students."
Elizabeth Stanek, director of Linking Families and Communities said national statistics show that children who have good early childhood experiences see higher graduation rates and are more likely to attend college in their futures.
"Preschool is important for children," Stanek said. "For every $1 invested in it, it yields an average of $7 later on."
Registration for preschools with free tuition are being held at the following locations:
Fort Dodge Community School District; 104 S. 17th St. Contact Lis Ristau at 574-5675
Dodger Preschool; 1611 Williams Drive contact Ann Moenck at 955-6060
Little Lambs Preschool; 1436 21st Ave. N. Contact Joan Arndt at 573-3174
Prince of Peace Preschool; 1023 S. 27th St. Contact Abigail Seltz at 573-8618
Childcare Discovery Center; 2329 First Ave. S. Contact Tammy McNeil at 576-6771
Head Start Central and Maple Drive; 214 S. 13th St. Contact Jeanette Flagge at 573-2453 ext. 208
Community Daycare and Preschool; 1315 S. 24th St. Contact Sheri Morud at 573-5461
St. Edmond Elementary; 2321 Sixth Ave. N. Contact Linda Mitchell at 576-5182
Community Christian School; 3058 10th Ave. N. Contact Roger Everett at 573-3011
The free tuition is available to any child that will be 4 years old by Sept. 15, 2009. The state chose the program for 4-year-olds because that is a very crucial time in a child's life for social and emotional development. However, if a parent wants to send a 3-year-old or 5-year-old to preschool and tuition prices are a concern, Linking Families and Communities provides preschool scholarships to eligible families with children outside of the 4-year-old age group.
"We will provide the scholarships to children ages 3 and 5 or to those who may not have been able to get their child into one of the schools with free tuition," said Stanek.
According to Ristau, in order to be eligible for a state preschool grant, schools must have a teacher with a degree in early childhood education who spends at least 10 hours per week in the classroom. All paraeducators in the preschool classrooms also have bachelor's degrees or paraeducator certification training as well. For every 10 children in the classroom, one paraeducator must be present.
"We're fortunate to have a support person provided by the state this school year to make sure we're reaching all requirements for the grant," Ristau said.
Currently, nine preschools in Fort Dodge are participating in the free tuition program. Linda Mitchell, principal at St. Edmond Elementary School said that having nine schools to choose from has been beneficial to families looking at preschools.
"It gives them a choice," Mitchell said. "It also helps when one school fills up, then we can recommend others."
Receiving the grant was also made possible by the help of the community.
"We had a number of families, businesses and child care providers write letters of recommendation for Fort Dodge to get this grant," said Mitchell. "It's been very good for our community."
Other area schools that have received the preschool grant include Southeast Webster-Grand, Laurens-Marathon, and Pocahontas Area.
Contact Emilie Nelson at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org