Palm Beach County school leaders stress importance of voluntary pre-kindergarten

Roughly 50% of kindergarteners not considered ‘kindergarten-ready’ at start of school year

WPTV | By Stephanie Susskind | March 1, 2023

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — New numbers show only about half of Palm Beach County kindergarten students were considered “kindergarten-ready” when they entered elementary school this year.

It comes as parents of Florida 4-year-olds are getting their kids enrolled in voluntary pre-kindergarten, or VPK, for next school year.

At Kiddie Haven Preschool, west of Lake Worth Beach, voluntary pre-kindergarten is about more than letters and numbers.

“It’s also about social skills, meaningful relationships, and interactions,” preschool director Odalys Gonzalez said. “They are exposed to the diversity that is around them, and they get to see the world through a different perspective.”

Gonzalez said the VPK experience is crucial to prepare little minds for what’s to come.

“The environment we create promotes self esteem, curiosity. The children overcome challenges every day,” Gonzalez said.

The children at Kiddie Haven Preschool follow a schedule to get them ready for that kindergarten experience. VPK covers three hours of the day, but parents can enroll them for longer.

“We would like the state to consider doing a full day of VPK. And personally, I would like to start seeing them fund 3-year-olds as well,” said Palm Beach County School Board member Erica Whitfield.

Whitfield wants more funding to expand early childhood education opportunities.

Records show only about 50% of kindergarteners in the School District of Palm Beach County were considered “kindergarten-ready,” based on testing in the beginning of the school year.

Some schools, according to Whitfield, were below 20%.

“That is where we see the biggest gap in our system is kids who participated in pre-K and those that didn’t and how different they are when they come in and continue to be different,” Whitfield said. “We’re always playing catch-up with those kids who didn’t have those opportunities.”

Whitfield added the school district is working to strengthen relationships between early childhood education providers and the elementary schools nearby.

The Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County is there to help parents find a VPK center that’s right for them and go through the enrollment process.

The coalition encourages parents of 4-year-olds to sign up for VPK now, as spots fill up quickly for next year.

Erin Gallagher, the division vice president for communications and planning at the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County, said they have a team ready to talk to parents about what they are looking for in quality child care.

Gallagher said VPK enrollment numbers have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels at more than 12,000 students a year.

“The transition to kindergarten is a big step, not just for our 4-year-olds, but for their families and caregivers. So we’re thrilled our numbers are back to where they normally are,” Gallagher said. “We know there is still a group of children who don’t attend VPK for a variety of reasons every year, and we certainly understand that. We’d love to see that number continue to climb, so we’re encouraging all families to consider that for next year for their child.”

To obtain a VPK voucher to enroll your child, you can visit the Early Learning Coalition’s website by clicking here.

You can call the Early Learning Coalition’s Child Care Resource and Referral Center at 561-514-3300 to speak to someone who can help find the child care center that is right for you and your family.

Current enrollment is for children who will turn 4 years old by September 1, 2023. You will need proof of your child’s age and residency to obtain a voucher online from the ELC website.

For more information about what your child is expected to know, both socially and academically, when heading into kindergarten, click here.

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