A Grants Program Changing the Landscape in Early Childhood Education
Since Pre-K 4 SA’s inception, the program set out to make an impact in early childhood education by also creating a comprehensive grants program.
Each year, Pre-K 4 SA provides $4.2 million in grants to add teachers, training, and technology to San Antonio’s early childhood landscape. These funds create more access to a high-quality curriculum for San Antonio’s 4-year-olds via public, parochial and child development centers.
Harlandale ISD is one of several school districts in San Antonio that has benefited tremendously from Pre-K 4 SA’s resourceful grants program. In 2016, HISD opted to partner with Pre-K 4 SA, making early childhood education a priority for the district. As a result, both administrators and teachers receive continuous professional learning in early childhood education, and outdoor learning classrooms are under construction.
There are a total of 13 pre-kindergarten classrooms throughout the Harlandale district, which currently has 65 pre-kindergarten teachers who teach 3- and 4-year-olds. In total, the district provides an early education to approximately 1,025 children. It also has a partnership with Avance, a federally funded program, which assists in instructing 438 of the children from within the district.
Diana Wagner, an early childhood coordinator at HISD and a former early childhood education principal, appreciates Pre-K 4 SA for providing an ongoing series of professional learning, not only for teachers, but also for school administrators. Wagner believes instructing administrators is an important factor for early childhood educators to understand and collaborate to provide high-quality education.
“I’m a former principal of 10 years and an early childhood major. I have learned a great deal of how (early childhood education) has progressed since I’ve been in college,” said Wagner. “I believe ongoing education (in early childhood education) is essential. I think that without having the administrators present for that continuum of learning between pre-k and kindergarten, there will continue to be a disconnection.”
Wagner is currently attending two of Pre-K 4 SA’s professional learning series, one for teachers and the other one for administrators. She has gained a better understanding and knowledge base by attending both. The teachers’ series has taught her to become a better classroom observer and able to understand more of the educator’s needs. As an administrator, she can have conversations with principals and explain what the needs are within the classrooms throughout the school district. This has been advantageous since these series programs are helping administrators and teachers to be more cognizant of how to help children build a strong academic foundation.
Another area that Pre-K 4 SA’s grants are assisting HISD is with the creation of new outdoor learning environments. There are currently three outdoor learning classrooms under construction at Gillette, Rayburn and Collier Elementary schools. Outdoor learning is important because it gives children the time to interact with nature while teachers encourage their sense of wonder and curiosity. Teachers also serve as partners in play, observe children, and facilitate individual learning while addressing all aspects of the Texas Pre-Kindergarten Guidelines. These new outdoor learning environments will not be limited to pre-kinder and kinder students, but will serve other elementary students on these campuses. Students within HISD will have more tools and resources to improve physical activity, gross motor development, attention spans, executive function, cognitive abilities and environmental awareness.
Pre-K 4 SA also recognizes parents as an essential factor for their children’s success. Pre-K 4 SA partners with families and the community to provide diverse, fun, and educational opportunities that encourage active engagement in a child’s academic, social and emotional, health and nutritional needs.
HISD also uses Pre-K 4 SA grants funding to help parents and families understand the importance of staying actively engaged in their child’s education. Wagner also realizes that in the district there are many 3- and 4-year-olds who are not being enrolled. With a focus on parents, the district plans to create more community outreach opportunities to educate families about the importance of early childhood education.
Wagner is delighted to see that the district she works for chose to submit a proposal to become an active grant recipient of Pre-K 4 SA’s grants program. In less than three years, she has seen how impactful this program has become in HISD. She has noticed the positive ripple effect from Pre-K 4 SA’s professional learning and grants programs occurring throughout the district.
“This program helps administrators become proactive instead of reactive. It allows staff, administration, teachers and parents to be unified and on the same page,” said Wagner. “I love partnering with Pre-K 4 SA because the initiative is about 4-year-olds and that is my passion. I’m just glad to be a part of the whole thing.”