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.

How Pre-K 4 SA is helping the Child Care Shortage in San Antonio

Teacher and Two Students at Pre-K 4 SA

When Covid-19 shut the world down, millions of families no longer had a Child Care Center open to care for their children. As a result, many families turned to smaller, private family child care providers for assistance. Family child care providers already outnumbered Child Development Centers in the number of children served, and in the shadows of shelter in place, social distancing, and quarantine, they rose to the challenges facing the entire world by keeping their doors open for even more children.

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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.

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 child care 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

A Community’s Bold Idea Flourishes into a Prosperous Future

Children play with bubbles outside

In 2012 when Pre-K 4 SA was on the ballot for the first time, the program was little more than a well-researched, innovative idea. Many wondered whether the city had the capacity to oversee an early education program and whether this new program would be discernibly different from existing programs. Some questioned how one year of prekindergarten could actually make a lasting difference for children, no matter how good the program. It speaks volumes about who San Antonio is as a community that even with these questions, the community said “Yes” to investing in our youngest learners.

Eight years later, Pre-K 4 SA has proven its worth and San Antonio proves to be the wise investor other cities are trying to emulate. Since San Antonio launched Pre-K 4 SA, dozens of cities have followed suit and created their own preschool programs. Even more are strategizing how to institute a similar program. What once seemed improbable—cities in the early learning business—is now so commonplace that Pre-K 4 SA has been featured at the annual conferences for the two largest municipal government organizations—the International City Managers Association and the National League of Cities. 

One of the reasons so many other cities want their own version of Pre-K 4 SA is that the results are so clear. San Antonio has shown that you can take high-quality early learning to scale and change the long-term educational trajectory for thousands of children every year. The Brain Power Taskforce—a visionary group of CEOs, college presidents, superintendents, and civic leaders who conceptualized Pre-K 4 SA—had the foresight to make external evaluation a central tenet of the program design.

Consequently, Pre-K 4 SA has been studied by independent researchers since its inception. The results of this research provide unequivocal evidence that children do better, families do better, and the community does better because of Pre-K 4 SA. Evaluation of student outcomes indicates that although children who attend Pre-K 4 SA tend to enter the program below national norms in key indicators, they leave the program well above national norms and more than ready for kindergarten (Westat 2018).  They also have higher third-grade math and reading scores and better attendance than their peers (Villarreal, 2019). Families who participate in the Pre-K 4 SA extended day program earn an average of $15,000 more in annual income (Westat, 2020) because they are able to work or go to school full-time.  And, the San Antonio community has realized a profit of $59 million in measurable benefits as a result of Pre-K 4 SA (Westat, Teachers College & University of Pennsylvania, 2020). For the last eight years, Pre-K 4 SA has helped San Antonio lay the foundation for a more productive workforce, healthier and more engaged families, less poverty, and more civic-minded young adults. This extraordinary initiative is just getting started and only together as a community we can continue to invest in San Antonio’s youngest learners for a brighter future.

Before I came to Pre-K 4 SA, I was a college professor who conducted research to understand what it takes to create schools that serve all, not just some, children well. In fact, in 2012 when the citizens of San Antonio were boldly launching what would become a national early learning movement, I was living in Austin and searching across the world for examples of high-performing, equitable schools. Little did I know then that what I was looking for was just down the highway, right here in San Antonio!

I have often told the story of walking into a Pre-K 4 SA Education Center for the first time and being completely astounded by what I saw. In my research of schools, I had seen pockets of excellence and large swaths of mediocrity. I had observed outstanding teachers and visited classrooms where children were learning at high levels, but those were the exceptions. What I had never seen was an entire system, building by building, classroom after classroom, filled with joyful, highly engaged children and teachers. I had also never seen schools that were part of a system that was strategically designed to deliver on the promise of high-quality early learning not just in a few schools, but across a city’s entire early learning landscape. But there I was standing in such a place, and I realized one way or another I had to become a part of this bold initiative known as Pre-K 4 SA.

I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to lead a remarkable program like Pre-K 4 SA and I am equally grateful that I get to be part of the San Antonio community. On Tuesday, November 3rd, San Antonio will once again have the chance to decide whether to invest in our future by investing in our youngest learners. While I do not know how the vote will go, I am confident that San Antonio will turn out in large numbers to weigh in on this important decision. One thing I’ve learned since moving to San Antonio is that San Antonio is not just a city, realmente es una comunidad. It’s a strong, family-oriented community that works together and truly believes in their children to lead San Antonio into a prosperous future.

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

Early Learning Leadership Matters in San Antonio

Pre-K 4 SA Workshop

At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, districts across San Antonio welcomed more pre-kindergarten children into their elementary schools than ever before.

Districts expanded from half-day to full-day programming for 10,487 children, which is a 9% increase over the previous year. The expansion of district pre-k programs came as a result of the passage of House Bill 3 (HB3) on June 11, 2019.

The landmark legislation provides funding for full-day pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds who meet one of the longstanding eligibility requirements established by the state. Although HB 3 does not increase the number of children eligible for pre-k, it is an important step forward for early learning in Texas.

Although the growing number of pre-kindergarten classrooms is a win, the impressive outcomes that early education promises are only possible when programs are high-quality. School and program leaders are essential to establishing the conditions necessary to make this kind of quality possible. Research shows principals alone can account for 25% of a school’s impact on student learning and have the second largest in-school impact on student achievement after teachers.

In a report by New America, principals in a focus group said the most important part of their job is helping teachers provide high-quality instruction. However, many principals had no experience in early childhood education and they shed light on how little their preparation programs equip them to be instructional leaders for the early grades.

For the past two years, Pre-K 4 SA has partnered with the New Teacher Center (NTC) to launch the first Early Learning Leadership Program (ELLP) in San Antonio. Program participants are comprised of principals, district leaders and instructional coaches across seven districts (Edgewood ISD, Northside ISD, Northeast ISD, Harlandale ISD, Southwest ISD, East Central ISD, San Antonio ISD) and the Archdiocese of San Antonio. The program has reached 150 school and program leaders which have impacted more than 3,500 children within our city.

The program is offered through two options: a nine-hour overview course and a nine-month intensive course, with most leaders opting into the longer intensive program.

“The Early Learning Leadership Program provides a unique opportunity for principals to focus on early childhood through professional learning and collaboration with other principals,” said Julia Schneider, director of early childhood in Northeast Independent School District. “It is changing the way our principals evaluate environments and instruction in their early childhood classrooms.”

The program includes six three-hour seminars, which focus on brain development, executive function, growth milestones and teaching practices that encourage language development and emerging math skills. It also includes “walk and talks” led by the ELLP team with principals to tour the program’s pre-k and kindergarten classrooms and to put to practice the knowledge participants are receiving through the seminars. ELLP team members also assist in answering any questions and overcoming challenges.

In addition, two observational walks with small groups of principals also take place. During these observations, a focus on an early learning problem of practice is posed by the group to guide the conversations. The group might look at the language teachers are using with children or how classroom environments are arranged.

One key element of the interactive sessions is demystifying concepts like “developmentally appropriate practice” and “playing to learn” by engaging principals in play! Betsy Fox, senior director of early learning partnerships at NTC, who leads the ELLP initiative with Pre-K 4 SA said, “Principals don’t often see the connection of play to learning. It’s about shifting the beliefs about how young children learn best.”

Whether participants are building brain architecture from pipe cleaners, or towers with straws and play dough, they are learning about how young children develop foundational academic, social-emotional and executive function skills. It’s important to work together and share knowledge about high-quality early childhood education in order to help San Antonio’s youngest learners.

Written by: Larissa Wilkinson, director of Professional Learning and Innovation

Creating Stronger Brains through the Arts

Art Infusion

Many tend to associate the arts with Picasso paintings or Shakespearean plays. However, many don’t realize how impactful the arts can be in early childhood education.

On Tuesday, September 3, 2019, Dr. Sarah Baray, CEO of Pre-K 4 SA, and Dr. Kimberly Stephenson, director of education for The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, discussed “The ‘A’ in STEAM: The role arts integration plays in San Antonio’s classrooms, community, and corporate culture.” Baray explained how Pre-K 4 SA integrates the arts into its curriculum.

During her presentation, there was an overview of the complexity of a child’s brain architecture. Children are born with endless possibilities, and their brains are prewired to allow them to learn anything. Children are capable of speaking any language or multiple languages, developing musical talents, or being facile with numbers.

“Over 90% of brain development occurs before the age of five,” said Baray. “This means that the way our brains will be structured for the rest of our lives is determined at a very early age.”

From the moment a child is born, his or her brain begins to strengthen some of those wires and eliminate others. Those pathways that are frequently stimulated through experiences and interactions get reinforced, while other paths that are seldom used will diminish.

For example, although children are born with the ability to speak any language, they initially learn only those languages that are spoken to them in their households. If children learn multiple languages early in life, it becomes easier for them to learn additional languages later in life because their brain already has strong pathways to support multilingualism. If children grow up only speaking one language, it’s more difficult to learn another language later in life because the brain is trying to build a new pathway when development is slower.

The human brain continues to develop until death. However, the rate of development slows down significantly as people continue to age. In the first five years of life, the brain makes one million neuronal connections every second. Thereafter, from the ages of six to 20, brain development slows down moderately and continues to do so throughout life.

“After the age of 20, our brain development happens at a snail’s pace in comparison to what happens in our early years,” said Baray. “We can still develop new pathways but it takes longer.”

The arts are essential to high-quality early learning not only because we want children to develop the brain architecture to support artistic talents and interests, but also because art is a language and a mode of expression.

Interestingly, art integration is not the norm in most schools today. Over the past 30 years, creativity and the arts have been removed from the K-12 education system. The arts have become an optional aspect and because they’ve been marginalized for the last two decades, children are losing their innovational edge.

For this reason, art integration is a critical tenet of the Pre-K 4 SA approach to high-quality early learning and forms part of one out of the four core curricular pillars. Pre-K 4 SA incorporates the Wolf Trap model into every classroom by inviting local artists to work with the children in creating original works of art.

Another way Pre-K 4 SA incorporates art into its curriculum is through their Gracias San Antonio: Children Are Citizens Project. The project begins in November with the children’s participation in a program-wide election to vote on a local non-profit to support for the academic year. Throughout the year, children and families engage in City Explorations with Pre-K 4 SA teachers by visiting different places around San Antonio as inspiration for pieces of art.

Pre-K 4 SA invites local artists to assist classrooms with the creation of authentic art pieces that express the children’s perspective of the city. More than 100 pieces of art are created and displayed in a public gallery to be auctioned to raise money for the local non-profit organization. Many who attend the annual Gracias showcase are amazed to see the wonderful pieces created by the minds and imaginations of young children.

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 in a variety of ways.

Pre-K 4 SA Provides Parent Training to Help Build a Foundation for the Future

parent training

Pre-K 4 SA continues to share the value of early childhood learning by offering parents more resources about the importance of a high-quality education.

Pre-K 4 SA is known for its work with young children. However, it isn’t only young children who benefit from its high-quality programing. Pre-K 4 SA also works with adults by providing over 10,000 hours per year of professional learning for educators who teach young children, and created a partnership designed to extend programs to parents.

Most recently, the City of San Antonio Head Start program and Pre-K 4 SA joined to offer parents a Child Development Associate Credential (CDA). This program provides parents the ability to enter the early education field and excel as their child’s first teacher before he or she enters a formal kindergarten program.

A CDA credential provides the education and the necessary training to ensure an assistant teacher is well prepared to deliver high-quality instruction. High CDA program costs make this credential unattainable for many, but Pre-K 4 SA is providing access to more parents and educators within the community. Pre-K 4 SA provides the hands-on course instruction delivered by Ashley Orihel, professional learning specialist at Pre-K 4 SA.

In the first class of the CDA program offered by Pre-K 4 SA, Ashley led a group of 12 dedicated parents. The participants received 120 hours of instruction and reviewed numerous topics, from classroom safety to all of the areas of a child’s physical, emotional, and behavioral development. Additional classes covered the creation of a professional portfolio with a strong emphasis on essay writing.

In addition to curriculum instruction, parents were required to work as volunteers in a classroom setting for 480 hours throughout the five-month program. Many enjoyed the hands-on experience so much that they exceeded the minimum number of hours needed to earn the credential, despite having other jobs and family responsibilities.

Ashley dedicated her time to building relationships with each parent, addressing concerns and challenging them to gain a better understanding of the value and importance of early childhood education.

Pre-K 4 SA recognizes parents as critical educational assets because they’re their child’s first and most important teacher. Pre-K 4 SA believes every child deserves a high-quality education that begins with parents, regardless of the family’s education or economic limitations.

“[The CDA program] is one of the most powerful things I’ve experienced since being at Pre-K 4 SA,” said Orihel. “The impact this program has had on the workforce in San Antonio is just amazing.”

Parents who received the CDA credential gained professional skills to make them more marketable in the early childhood education field. Before the completion of the program, four parents were offered a full-time substitute position, and one of them began a position at Stafford Early Childhood Center.

“There were many positive outcomes from taking this high-quality CDA program,” said Demetria Keys, a parent and program participant. “I was hired as a substitute teacher at the same school I was taking the class. The doors just opened up to many things.”

The interactive and intensive CDA program offers its alumni more than curriculum and instructional opportunities; it builds leadership skills and confidence. One parent currently sits on the policy council for Head Start, another is a PTA vice president, and one is a director of children’s ministry at a local church, while others host community events at local schools.

“Originally, I was interested in the course to get more information about my kids,” said Vanessa Bermudez, a parent and program participant. “Both of my children have developmental differences, so I took this class to help me understand them better.”

Due to the success of the first cohort, the City of San Antonio Head Start and Pre-K 4 SA are planning to have two cohorts at the same time—at no cost—for the 2019-2020 academic year. One class is scheduled to be held at Edgewood ISD, and the other at San Antonio ISD. Alumni from the first cohort have volunteered to share their own impactful experience with the next group of participants.

The CDA program was designed to align with Pre-K 4 SA’s mission to change the educational and workforce trajectories in San Antonio in one generation. Pre-K 4 SA is glad to take part in contributing to early childhood education today and will continue to do so in the years to come.