Keeping the Pre-K 4 SA Promise – Increasing Access to Early Learning for San Antonio Families

children and adults pose in front of a step and repeat with colorful blow up guitars and props

The Parent Café was already buzzing with new families talking with enrollment team members and registering their 4-year-olds for the 2022-2023 school year. You could hear the excitement in the children’s voices as they spoke to their parents and wandered around, smiling at new faces or sitting down on the couch with a cautious enthusiasm to share a book with another child.

And as of May 9, Pre-K 4 SA has opened enrollment for 3-year-olds too. When the news reached one of the families in the Parent Café, both the mom and little boys smiled and clapped together, knowing they could enroll both children.

Research indicates 90% of brain development occurs before the age of five. This is when the foundations of language, social, and emotional growth, key factors in future academic success, are created and developed.

“We know that one year of high-quality early learning has demonstrated proven long-term success for children,” Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray said. “National research indicates that two years of pre-k is exponentially better and has immediate, short term and long-term benefits to children, families, and the community. And we are seeing a need for access for 3-year-olds, especially coming out of the pandemic.”

Pre-K 4 SA also saw a need to help San Antonio’s working, middle-class families who may need financial support but do not already qualify for free, high-quality pre-K through Texas Education Agency (TEA) guidelines. Families can receive additional tuition assistance through its expanded scholarship structure, which now provides free pre-K to those families making up to $75,000. Families can easily determine their personal investment in their child’s learning at Pre-K 4 SA by accessing the scholarship calculator.

Brenda Rosas has three boys who attended Pre-K 4 SA. She feels her children were better prepared for elementary school than their peers.

“Pre-K 4 SA gives them a great head start to their education,” said Rosas. “I have an ongoing joke with the family liaison where I wish my children could have been here another year. The benefits are tremendous – they are prepared for elementary and beyond. And an extra year would have been great to give them the extra one-on-one time with the teacher but also help them thrive.”

Mrs. Rosas has seen the positive impact on high-quality early learning for all three of her boys. She believes her children are not only prepared more academically, but she has also seen social and emotional development of her children, which has helped her oldest son, who is now in middle school.

At Pre-K 4 SA, we understand that family members are a child’s first and most important teachers. Learning is collaborative and extends far beyond the classroom. Now, the same teachers, children, and families will work together for two years allowing for deeper learning and development both in and out of the classroom.

Just like our 4-year-olds, the 3-year-olds will receive the same benefits from Pre-K 4 SA, such as transportation with the 5-point safety harness, nutritious family-style meals and snacks, as well as access to extended-day care for our working families. We offer integrated, full inclusion classrooms with both 3- and 4-year-olds. This will help older children develop better leadership skills while the younger students learn from their interactions.

Opening enrollment to 3- and 4-year-olds and expanding the scholarship structure is part of Pre-K 4 SA’s commitment to providing high-quality, research-based early education that empowers children at a critical age for school and life success. To learn more about enrollment, please call 210-206-PREK or apply online. An enrollment specialist is available to answer any questions and support our families throughout the application and enrollment process.

Gracias San Antonio, Children’s Art Making a Difference within the San Antonio Community

teacher and young students work on an artwork together

For the last eight years, Pre-K 4 SA’s 4-year-olds have inspired local artists to create quality art pieces to benefit nonprofit initiatives.

At Pre-K 4 SA, through an innovative curriculum-driven program called Gracias San Antonio: Children Are Citizens, 4-year-olds are learning how to become civic-minded individuals; and they love every moment of supporting the community, creating art, and learning about local nonprofits. Gracias San Antonio is grounded in the belief that children are not just future citizens, but also are citizens of the city in the here and now, with the right to express their opinions and participate in the civic and cultural life of San Antonio.

“This is my eighth year with Pre-K 4 SA, and I feel Gracias gets better every year! It’s such an awesome event that allows our students to work alongside some of San Antonio’s best artists,” said Stephanie Flores, East Center master teacher.

Since 2013, Gracias San Antonio has raised more than $33,000 for the following nonprofits: Good Samaritan Community Services, San Antonio Humane Society, Any Baby Can of San Antonio, Children’s Shelter, Child Safe, St. Pj’s Children’s Home, and Therapy Animals of San Antonio.

Gracias San Antonio is a six-month project where children have the opportunity to vote for a nonprofit, explore the best of San Antonio’s landmarks, and bring their inspirations to life through art right in their classrooms.

Every year, in November, Pre-K 4 SA children vote in a school-wide election to select a nonprofit organization the children learn about and support throughout the year. On election day—scheduled on the same day as the actual election—Pre-K 4 SA’s Parent Cafés are transformed into mock-up voting polls. American flags and red, white, and blue streamers adorn the voting polls, and children one-by-one cast their vote as they choose their nonprofit of choice. Also, Pre-K 4 SA children, families, and staff participate in volunteer opportunities with the nonprofit.

In December, teachers invite children and their families to engage in City Explorations around San Antonio to help children learn about their city. San Antonio becomes the classroom and the children the explorers as they visit local parks, historic city sites, art exhibits, monuments, and local establishments. These explorations serve for children to gain ideas and inspiration for their art collaborations with their classroom artists.

In January and February, the art creation process begins. Pre-K 4 SA strongly believes that by engaging students in art experiences at a young age, children more deeply develop their thinking and creativity, learning to express themselves. Therefore, local artists join children in the classroom to create authentic art pieces using a variety of artistic mediums to express the children’s perspective of their city and the places they visit and explore. More than 100 art pieces are then displayed in a public gallery exhibit in April and auctioned to raise money for the selected nonprofit organization.

“Their own fearless creativity inspires me to create an art piece. As adults, we get used to being told, ‘this won’t work’ or ‘it has to be done this way’ that we hold our own creativity back. Kids don’t buy into that. Their imagination allows them to think outside of the box,” said Mary Klonek-Reyes, local San Antonio artist and returning Gracias volunteer. “I love how energetic and excited the kids get to learn new techniques and use new tools. Anything you teach a child has the ability to breathe new meaning into their existence, to open their eyes to new possibilities and new ways of thinking and feeling.”

The THRU Project was selected by children and their families as the 2021-2022 school year beneficiary nonprofit. Their mission is to help foster youth overcome the challenges of growing up in a foster care system by providing guidance, support, and advocacy to prepare them for life after foster care.

“The THRU Project team was thrilled to be selected as this year’s Gracias Project beneficiary by the youth and families at Pre-K 4 SA,” said Courtney Laverty, CFRE and CEO of THRU Project. “This partnership will enable us to provide mentors, life skills training and housing for current foster youth and those who have aged out. Thank you for helping to bridge the gap between foster care and adulthood!”

As the world becomes increasingly more globalized and connected, knowledge of ourselves as individual learners and as members of a community becomes more important. Through Gracias San Antonio children have the opportunity to become active contributors within their community in order to make their city a better place to work, play, and live.

Stay connected to Pre-K 4 SA’s social media platforms to find out more about our Gracias San Antonio yearly activities and to be the first one to know when the 2021-2022 Gracias San Antonio Online Art Auction opens.

Retrofits and Protocols at Education Centers Contribute to Another Successful Academic Year

Pre-K 4 SA staff member embraces student while wearing masks

The 2020-2021 Pre-K SA Cohort completed their last day of school on Thursday, May 27 with an End of Year Parade. Families celebrated by decorating their cars in order to pick up their children at Pre-K 4 SA Education Centers and celebrate the work accomplished over the course of the school year.

As children waited for their parents to pass through the parade, they cheered and danced. One by one they collected their summer goody bags which included books, class photos, and their Pre-K 4 SA Certificate of Completion. Additionally, the San Antonio Food Bank along with H-E-B gave all of Pre-K 4 SA families a summer produce bag to start the summer with healthy food choices.

However, the 2020-2021 academic year didn’t start in such a positive manner. There was so much uncertainty about even starting a new school year with the rise of local and national COVID-19 cases. And, many parents were unsure about allowing their children to attend in-person classes.

In an effort to create options for families, Pre-K 4 SA, for the very first time, offered a remote learning track along with the traditional in-person option. This allowed parents to feel more at ease as they decided on the best option for their child’s education.

Additionally, Pre-K 4 SA worked with city leaders, health experts and their own guiding physicians to implement protocols that went above and beyond minimum standards in order to allow them to both have in-person classes and keep children, families and staff safe.

Before the 2020-2021 academic year began, the Pre-K 4 SA leadership and staff worked earnestly to make the appropriate retrofits to all of their Education Centers. Additionally, the creation of new procedures and protocols were set into place to keep all staff and children safe. More than 100 new comprehensive safety procedures and protocols were implemented as a reactive approach to keep others safe from confirmed COVID-19 cases.

At the same time, the Operations team installed over 1,870 touchless devices which helped tremendously decrease the spread of germs in high-contact surfaces. These devices included touchless sinks, doors, and paper towel dispensers. Each Center also received touchless thermometer stations which quickly allowed temperature checks for staff. The cost of all of these retrofits and improvements came out to approximately $900,000.  These measures were necessary to fulfill Pre-K 4 SA’s commitment to ensure the health and safety of its children, families, and staff.

Additionally, at that given time, the guidance on COVID-19 suggested the virus could spread through airborne transmission. To prevent this from happening, the HVAC systems at all four Education Centers were adjusted to bring more fresh air into the classrooms by adding higher grade air filters to capture germs.

Fortunately, all these retrofits and new safety protocols were effective to keep the 2020-2021 Cohort safe throughout the entire year. Pre-K 4 SA’s Leadership team is thankful to see how everyone worked together and as a team throughout the entire academic year to conclude successfully.

Now, as Pre-K 4 SA personnel looks to return to in-person classes for the 2021-2022 academic year, some safety and wellness protocols will still be in place. Curbside drop-off and pick-up will remain as an option for families. The use of touchless sinks and water fountains, and daily temperature scans will help prevent the spread of infections such as colds, flu, and strep, which is vital to keep children in school actively engaged in learning. These protocols will contribute to the year-round health of Pre-K 4 SA’s students, families, and staff.

Pre-K 4 SA Continues to Pave the Way to a Brighter Future

Children Playing in Tunnel

“Now that the election is behind us, I wanted to send my sincere thanks to all of you for supporting and believing in us. Our families are a huge part of the Pre-K 4 SA success story.

Over the last eight years, Pre-K 4 SA has benefitted over 450,000 children. We could not have done that without the help of our families. We are humbled by your support and enthusiasm, and we look forward to continuing to work with you to serve even more of San Antonio’s children and families.”

I recently reached out to all of our current and alumni families to thank them for their support during the first eight years of Pre-K 4 SA. I would like to take this time to also thank the campaign, Pre-K 4 SA Board, City Leadership, Early Matters, our District and Community Partners, and most importantly our educators, staff, and the citizens of San Antonio.

Since the inception of Pre-K 4 SA, we have accomplished many milestones for our children and their families, as well as for the entire community. However, there is much more work to be done. We intend to continue working to ensure every young child in San Antonio has access to affordable, high-quality early learning and care. This means continuing to work with our partners in childcare centers, schools, and community programs to build a strong early learning and care infrastructure.

Over the next few years, Pre-K 4 SA will work with partner programs to expand access to high-quality prekindergarten so that every family with a four-year-old has a place to enroll if they choose to. Here’s how we plan to do that.

1. Pre-K 4 SA Education Centers will continue to serve 2,000 children. We will expand eligibility so the program is free, not only for those that qualify based on state guidelines, but also for middle class families with annual earnings up to $65,000.

2. Public Schools will continue to serve 13,500 children who are eligible for free prekindergarten based on state guidelines. Pre-K 4 SA will provide professional learning and grants to support districts in serving an additional 1,500 children in middle class families with annual earnings up to $65,000.

3. Child Development Centers and Private/Parochial Schools will serve up to 5,000 families. Pre-K 4 SA will provide professional learning and grants to help ensure these programs meet national early learning quality standards, too.

4. Finally, Home-Based Providers will serve the remaining four-year-olds, as some families think home is the best place for young children. Supporting young children who are learning in home settings has been a goal of Pre-K 4 SA for some time. When the COVID-19 pandemic caused us to close our centers and develop a remote learning program, we realized we could use this approach to support home-based programs. With the help of our outstanding teaching staff, we have developed a remote learning curriculum and launched our very own Online Resource Center which is available in English and Spanish to the entire community.  Through distance learning, we also offer our parents specialized workshops and children have the option to become part of a virtual class. This new innovative option of home-based distance learning has opened the door to an additional 2,000 children.

In addition to ensuring all 25,000 four-year-olds have access to high-quality prekindergarten, Pre-K 4 SA is committed to improving both quality and access for children younger than four. According to the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, young children develop 1 million brain synapses every second in the first few years of life. That means the earlier we start supporting young children and their families, the better off they will be and the more likely they will grow into healthy, happy, productive adults. Pre-K 4 SA is ready to do our part to continue creating a bright future for our children, families, and community!

Written by: Sarah Baray, Pre-K 4 SA CEO

Pre-K 4 SA Continues to Change the Early Childhood Education Landscape in San Antonio

Children hold up signs that say "I'm a Student," "Future Student," or "Past Student"

I was thrilled to see more than 1,400 alumni families and children join us recently for our 2nd Annual Pre-K 4 SA Family Reunion!

Our Pre-K 4 SA staff worked their magic to make this event possible. Because of the pandemic, the team had to transform the event from a large in-person gathering to a drive-thru experience. Using strategy and imagination, the team turned Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium parking lot into a celebratory fair-like parade full of activities, books and Pre-K 4 SA giveaways, and food for everyone in attendance. The children’s faces beamed as they interacted with their teachers and played games from the safety of their cars. After so many months of limited interaction, I know all of us were glad to enjoy a beautiful fall day in San Antonio.

Seeing the children’s gleaming smiles during the Family Reunion as they passed by reminded me of the very first time I visited a Pre-K 4 SA Education Center. As I drove up to the building, I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the outside, it looked like an ordinary early learning center. Everything changed when I stepped inside. From the moment I entered the building, I was completely blown away. I’ve had a long career in education, and seen schools across the world, but nothing like Pre-K 4 SA. It was classroom after classroom, filled with joyful children and teachers engaged in playful learning and families who are strongly committed to their children’s education. Then I learned that there was not just one Pre-K 4 SA Education Center but four, and that this bold initiative included professional learning and grants for other programs across the city. I couldn’t believe it. It was at that moment that I decided I just had to be part of this program. Every day since, I have been grateful that I am.

Pre-K 4 SA is proud to be leading San Antonio’s effort to develop a world-class workforce through high-quality early childhood education for all children in San Antonio. After the first eight years, Pre-K 4 SA had proven that a city can transform its early learning landscape through a comprehensive approach that includes:

  • Education Centers
  • Professional Learning
  • Competitive Grants
  • Family Engagement

Education Centers

Pre-K 4 SA’s four model education centers serve as demonstrations of what is possible when young children have access to highly skilled teachers and an evidenced-based curriculum, as demonstrated in the 2019 community impact study. San Antonio serves as a model in municipal early childhood programs and Pre-K 4 SA regularly hosts delegations from across the country and the world. In fact, Pre-K 4 SA has provided tours and facilitated detailed conversations with more than 25 municipalities, 3 international entities, and the US Department of the Army.

With research to demonstrate the success of Pre-K 4 SA’s approach, Pre-K 4 SA is supporting other programs to replicate our proven practices. We launched our first replication site in August 2019 at Gardendale Elementary School in Edgewood ISD.  The Gardendale Early Learning Program powered by Pre-K 4 SA is creating greater capacity for high-quality early childhood education in San Antonio. Working side-by-side, Pre-K 4 SA and Edgewood are creating a model Pre-K through 2nd grade early learning program.

Professional Learning

Pre-K 4 SA believes that every child deserves high-quality early education. Pre-K 4 SA’s comprehensive approach includes educating 2,000 4-year-olds annually, providing over 10,000 hours of professional learning for educators, and developing parents as educational advocates. The Pre-K 4 SA Professional Learning division offers free, best-in-class training to any early learning educator in San Antonio serving children birth through third grade. Our comprehensive approach includes workshops, seminars, network events, and job-embedded coaching.

Pre-K 4 SA hosts in-service training for roughly 3,000 teachers, school principals and district administrators, early education leaders, and community providers annually. Through Pre-K 4 SA’s comprehensive Professional Learning Program, the number of highly skilled PK-3rd grade early childhood educators across San Antonio measurably increases each year.

Competitive Grants

Pre-K 4 SA provides over $4.2 million in grants annually to early learning programs across the city, benefitting all of San Antonio’s young children and their families. Pre-K 4 SA provides training and resources to early education teachers throughout our city, and supports and enhances other pre-kindergarten programs as well.

Pre-K 4 SA’s Grants program adds teachers, training and technology to San Antonio’s early childhood landscape annually. The funds create more access to high-quality curriculum for San Antonio’s 4-year-olds in public, parochial and child development centers.

Family Engagement

At Pre-K 4 SA, we believe stronger families make a stronger educational landscape. We believe that by supporting the entire family helps children build a successful learning foundation.  Our Family Engagement Team collaborates closely with teachers, administrators, and staff to encourage educational potential in the home, engage families in school leadership, and build on each family’s unique strengths and abilities.

Most recently, Pre-K 4 SA coordinated a partnership with Vooks, the leading streaming service for children’s books, to provide a free, one-year subscription of Vooks to children and early learning teachers across Bexar County. Made possible by a contribution from Charles Butt, Pre-K 4 SA and its partners will tackle the challenge of limited book access for young children by putting the Vooks library of animated storybooks and specially designed learning guides in the hands of early learning educators and families with a 4- to 6-year-old child.

In Bexar County, where three in five children are economically disadvantaged and more than 30% are not reading on grade level by third grade, the need for early access to books is tremendous. Reading on level by third grade is a critical indicator of future academic success. Children who have access to books at home are much more likely to reach this important milestone. The Vooks platform brings books to life in a kid-safe environment.  As part of this partnership, Pre-K 4 SA facilitated additional partnerships with the San Antonio Public Library Foundation (SAPLF) and BiblioTech, Bexar County’s all-digital public library, to extend the distribution of the subscription program and access to Wi-Fi to families across Bexar County. BiblioTech will allow families to check out personal hotspots for home access to Vooks.

Through Pre-K 4 SA’s first eight years since its inception, we have provided a high-quality education model that empowers our children at such a critical age for academic and even life success.

By 2021, Pre-K 4 SA will have impacted more than 452,161 four-year-olds within the San Antonio community.  Pre-K 4 SA’s bold initiative is changing the landscape by developing a more productive workforce, healthier and more engaged families, less poverty, and civic-minded young adults to take San Antonio into the future. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this incredible work and together we can continue providing young children with a high-quality education for a brighter future.

For more information on how Pre-K 4 SA is changing the landscape, click the following link:

Written by: Sarah Baray, Pre-K 4 SA CEO