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Two more preschool classes scheduled

July 27, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education will offer 22 preschool classes when the school year begins in late August, up from 20 last year, Jill Burkhart, supervisor for elementary reading, social studies and early learning, said last week.

While the number of sites where preschool is offered has stayed at nine, the number of half-day classes being offered has increased from 18 in the 2002-03 school year to 22 for the 2004-05 year, Burkhart said.

It is projected that the number of classes will increase at a rate of two a year, she said.

The number of 4-year-old students served has increased from about 400 in the last school year to about 430 for the upcoming school year, she said.

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According to Maryland law, county schools must be able to provide a spot in preschool programs for all eligible applying students by the 2007-08 school year, said Joetta Palkovitz-Brown, executive director of early childhood and elementary education.

While several factors determine program eligibility, such as whether the parents are homeless, the most important factor is income, Burkhart said.

The program is funded by state and federal grants, provided rules regarding eligibility are followed.

Families who qualify for free and reduced-priced meals, a discount given to students whose families have low incomes, are eligible for the program, Burkhart said.

The programs are intended to help prepare 4-year-olds in low-income families for kindergarten, she said.

Studies have shown that children in low-income families have less exposure to educational opportunities than families who make more money, Palkovitz-Brown said.

A study quoted in American Educator, for example, said that a child living in poverty hears 13 million different words by age 4, compared to 26 million for children in working-class families and 45 million for children in professional families.

Chad Sweigert of Hagerstown, a parent with a child who will turn 4 in August, questioned whether it is fair to provide preschool for only some income groups.

He applied for his son to attend preschool at Funkstown Elementary School but was told he made too much money, he said.

While he agrees that it is good to help low-income families, it is hard to explain to his son, Luke, why some of his friends in day care will go to preschool next month but he can't, Sweigert said.

School system employees would love to have unlimited funding and space to provide preschool to all students, but they don't, Palkovitz-Brown said.

Each of the Title 1 elementary schools in the county - Bester, Eastern, Fountaindale, Hancock, Hickory, Lincolnshire, Pangborn, Salem and Winter Street - has a preschool program, Palkovitz-Brown said.

If slots are available in preschool classes after all eligible students are placed, they are offered to families who come closest to being eligible, she said. Not all of the slots for the Funkstown program have been filled, she said.

To apply for preschool or for more information, call Burkhart's office at 301-766-2955 or 301-766-2988.

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