Amber Visser

EARLY LEARNING — Amber Visser plays a game with students in her preschool class.

Qualifying families can send their 4-year-old to preschool at no cost to them this year, thanks to the On My Way Pre-K grant expanding to Howard County for the first time this year.

Children who qualify will be able to attend partnered child care providers in the area, and all partners must be a Level 3 or 4 Paths to Quality provider. Currently, approximately 40 families have taken advantage of the grant, and organizers are hoping to sign up 60 more families by the start of the school year.

Kimberly Gordon, who oversees the Howard, Grant, and Tippecanoe programs, said the grant is an “incredible” opportunity for families to help better prepare their children for kindergarten.

“Pre-k is imperative in creating a strong foundation for these kiddos not only academically but also socially and emotionally,” said Gordon. “I think the high-quality pre-k education will definitely set these kids up for success compared to their peers who do not attend a pre-k program.”

Gordon commended the United Way of Howard County, which is the contract holder for the On My Way Pre-K grant, for its recent work in finding ways to better prepare students for kindergarten.

United Way launched a #75in5 initiative in 2017 which aims to get 75 percent of kindergarten-aged students ready for school by 2022, and Gordon said the grant will help accomplish this goal by making it financially feasible for more children to attend pre-k programs. In 2017, only approximately 45 percent of area school children were kindergarten-ready.

Gordon stressed the importance of preschool programs, saying they give students skills they can’t learn at home.

“We’re working with kindergarten teachers this year and developing a kindergarten-readiness checklist. Most of the items on that checklist weren’t things that most people think about like learning your name, knowing your colors. Most of the skills that were told to us by the kindergarten teachers that they want to see were the social-emotional skills. Can the kiddo follow a routine? Can he ask for help? Can he get along with others? Can he be respectful to his peers? Can he complete a task for five or 10 minutes?” said Gordon.

These skills, she said, begin to get honed in preschool.

Currently, there are 11 approved providers in the On My Way Pre-K program: Bona Vista, Microchips, Finding Me Now, YMCA Child Care Center, Elwood Haynes, Pettit Park, Lafayette Park, Boulevard, Busy Bee Day Care, Sts. Joan of Arc & Patrick School, and Sonbeam Child Care (Greentown). Slots are filled on a first come, first served basis.

To qualify, families must have an income below 127 percent of the federal poverty level, which comes out to about $2,600 a month or less for a family of four, according to Gordon. The child must be 4 years old by Aug. 1, 2018, and starting kindergarten in the 2019-20 school year.

In addition, parents and guardians in the household must be working, going to school, or attending job training. For parents who are stay-at-home parents, Gordon said a partnership with Literacy Coalition has been formed where parents can sign up to attend classes at no cost to them in order to qualify for the grant.

Links to electronic applications, in both English and Spanish, as well as a printable paper application, are available at www.OnMyWayPreK.org. Through the website, families will know immediately whether they qualify.

Applications also are available at Bona Vista Child Care Solutions in downtown Kokomo at 123 N. Buckeye St. on the third floor.

Additional providers still are being sought as well. For more information, call 765-457-8273.