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Kalispell, MT: State should provide PreK for all; "many children" enter school with issues

Feb 24, 2019, Kalispell, MT, Daily Interlake: Protect our future with pre-K legislation https://www.dailyinterlake.com/letters_to_the_editor/20190224/protect_our_future_with_pre-k_legislation I urge public support for early childhood education, also known as pre-kindergarten. In 1952, my mother enrolled me in first grade. I knew how to sit still, pay attention, do my work, respect my teacher and get along with my classmates. All the other kids knew the same. We were 6 years old and ready to learn. Those days are gone. Upheavals in society have produced many children who enter school with no experience of being safe, valued or accepted. They can’t learn because they don’t know how to be part of a group and respond to instruction. … Our teachers have found ways to meet the challenge of high-need kids. I have stood in the classrooms of our elementary schools and watched our teachers intervene and regulate out-of-control kids within minutes. I have approved sending our teachers to workshops where they learn best practices based on academic research and real-world experience. I have seen our multi-tiered systems of support in operation, creating a yearning in children to be in school so they may enjoy the acceptance and approval of their classmates and teachers. I have watched test scores and graduation rates climb year after year as we implement these practices in the primary grades and carry them all the way through high school…. Over the years, we have added kindergarten to public education. Our teachers and administrators now tell me that for high-need kids, the process should begin at age 4. … “Kalispell Public Schools specifically sees preschool early intervention as an integral support for students’ social, emotional and behavioral health. It provides high-need students the opportunity to learn and practice social skills and language. Some of these kids have never been exposed to an environment where they are required to share, take turns, self-regulate, etc. Not all pre-schoolers need a formal program, but identifying our most at-risk students and getting them an early start at age 4 allows skills and school expectations (sitting, listening, following directions, working with others, etc.) to be taught, which allows for a higher success rate at kindergarten. These high-need students often come from dysfunctional families. Our early intervention program provides the opportunity to teach the parent(s) proper parenting skills, benefiting the students for the remainder of their school career. Students impacted by trauma require a much higher level of care. The earlier this support can begin, the better the results will be for the student and family. When behavior can be regulated by the student, with help and support from school staff, academic success increases. Children who don’t attend preschool are 25 percent more likely to drop out of high school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.”… Mike Merchant is a trustee with Kalispell Public Schools