4 Years Old, A Critical Age to Enroll into a Pre-K Program

February is upon us, which means it is time to start enrolling for the 2021-22 school year! Pre-K 4 SA will begin accepting applications Monday, February 1. Any child who will be four by September 1, 2021 is eligible to apply. The application and information about how to apply may be found on our Pre-K 4 SA Application Page.

Because the coronavirus continues to spread throughout our community, some families may be unsure about enrolling their 4-year-old in pre-K for the 2021-22 school year. These concerns are understandable. This school year has been difficult for everyone. But one thing we have learned is that schools are safe places. Pre-K 4 SA is fiercely committed to the health and safety of our children, families, and staff. We continuously monitor the situation and work with Metro Health and follow the CDC’s guidelines to ensure our centers can safely remain open. Our approach has proven effective at preventing the spread of the virus in our Education Centers. We will continue to apply our COVID-19 protocols as long as necessary, including into next year.

There is reason to be hopeful that by August we will be able to put our masks away. People are beginning to get vaccinated. By summer, the vaccine should be available to many more people and we will be closer to reaching herd immunity.

But regardless of what is happening with the pandemic, enrolling in high-quality pre-K helps children start strong.  Research out of Harvard University shows that young children’s brains are developing at high speed—over 1 million neural connections every second!

Pre-K 4 SA is designed to take advantage of this period of rapid brain growth to help children develop strong brain architecture that will support them throughout life. Our highly skilled teachers are specially trained to create classrooms that inspire and support the way children learn best—through play. And we use the HighScope curriculum, which is backed by more than 50 years of research that proves children continue to benefit long after they have left the pre-K classroom. Research done right here in San Antonio shows that children who attended Pre-K 4 SA had better third-grade math and reading scores than children who did not attend pre-K.

Pre-K 4 SA’s mission is to ensure all of San Antonio’s young children have access to high-quality early learning. Join us in encouraging all families with a 4-year-old to enroll as soon as possible to secure a seat for the 2021-2022 school year.

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

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

“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

A Community’s Bold Idea Flourishes into a Prosperous Future

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

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: https://prek4sa.com/program-overview/

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

A Day in the New Normal at Pre-K 4 SA

As we prepare to open the doors at all four of our Pre-K 4 SA Education Centers, we have developed a three-prong COVID-19 response strategy designed to keep our children, families, and staff safe and healthy:

1) Keep the virus out of our buildings;

2) Reduce the chance of an outbreak; and

3) Respond quickly to a potential COVID exposure.

With new safety features and sanitation protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 set in place, our 2020-2021 school year will look different from previous years. These protocols and procedures will be evident from the very moment a child arrives at the Education Center or bus depot to the moment the family picks up the child at the end of the day.

Although COVID-19 has disrupted our normal way of life, we want the children in this year’s cohort to have the same sense of wonder and awe that previous groups of children experienced at Pre-K 4 SA. Young children learn through play, which includes active exploration and tactile interactions. To ensure children are able to safely move about the room and touch instructional materials, Pre-K 4 SA has developed a sanitation plan that allows children to go about their normal classroom activities and then place used items in a cleaning bin to be sanitized by staff. This approach makes cleaning and sanitizing a normal part of the classroom routine and avoids creating a sense of fear about being in the classroom or using materials.

Teaching children healthy habits has always been part of the Pre-K 4 SA approach. We teach children how to brush their teeth, eat vegetables, and properly wash their hands because those are things we do to keep ourselves happy and healthy. This year, we are adding new lessons that teach children the proper way to put on their masks and face shields and the importance of handwashing and sanitation as part of a general routine of safety and healthfulness.

What does all this look like in practice? Read below about a typical day at Pre-K 4 SA in the 2020-21 school year.

Daily Drop-off

As families arrive for morning drop-off, they are directed to pull up to designated curbside locations where they are greeted by a Pre-K 4 SA staff member who is wearing a mask, face shield and gloves. Families remain in their vehicle and use our new contactless smartphone application, ProCare, to begin the check-in process. The app guides families through the COVID health screening questions while the Pre-K 4 SA staff member uses a touchless thermometer to take the child’s temperature. Once the health screening is complete, a secure one-time QR code pops up on the Center’s device.

The staff member scans the code to automatically update the system to alert the classroom teacher that the child has arrived and is on the way to the classroom. The child puts on a face mask and exits the car with the staff member. The staff member escorts the child into the building where they stop at the hand sanitizing station and then onto the classroom. The staff member scans the child in on the teacher’s iPad to complete the check-in process. [Note: Families without a smartphone may use a Pre-K 4 SA iPad to complete this process.]

The protocol for families that elect to use Pre-K 4 SA transportation is similar, but with a few added safety protocols for the bus. As families arrive at the bus depot, they are directed to pull into designated parking spots. Families remain in their vehicles and use the smartphone app to begin the check-in process. The app guides families through COVID health screening questions. Once the health screening is complete, a secure one-time QR code pops up on the Center’s device. The parent and child put on their face masks and walk to the bus loading zone where a Pre-K 4 SA staff member is waiting.

The staff member takes the child’s temperature, scans the QR code and escorts the child onto the bus where they are greeted by a driver wearing protective gear. Children are seated in a 5-point harness safety seat, from the back of the bus to the front, in designated spots to allow adequate social distancing. Instruction begins as soon as the bus begins moving, with the staff member leading the children in songs and rhyming games. When the bus arrives at the Education Center, the staff member unloads the children from front to back and escorts the children to the classroom, stopping by the hand sanitizing station on the way. Once in the classroom, each child is checked-in on the teacher’s iPad.

In the Classroom

Pre-K 4 SA will provide all supplies for the children, including personal items like water bottles and nap blankets. These items will remain at Pre-K 4 SA and we will take responsibility for sanitizing them. Additionally, any item brought into the building by an adult (e.g., purse, lunch bag) will be sanitized upon entry.

As children arrive in the classroom, they put away their cloth face mask and put on their face shield before joining the teacher for a read aloud. Face shields ensure children’s coughs and sneezes are covered and are more comfortable than face masks for children to wear for long periods of time. Having no more than 10 children in a classroom designed for 20, provides plenty of room for the children to spread out. The classrooms are sanitized daily and the HVAC systems have been modified to provide better air filtration and more fresh air.

One by one, the children wash their hands and select a seat at the table. Plexiglass table dividers allow children and teachers to safely sit near one another. Children eat a healthy, individually packaged meal while the teacher engages them in conversation to support language development.

After breakfast, children wash their hands and find a place on the large floor rug. Each child is individually greeted and welcomed as the child sits down. The teacher shares the schedule for the day, which is written on a dry erase easel all the children can see. The teacher discusses any news or changes to the schedule. Children share their own news and are encouraged to comment and make suggestions about the day’s schedule. Then it’s time for the teachers and children stand up and spread out so they can express themselves through movement and music. The children take turns being the leader by selecting the type of movement activity and encouraging the other children to share in the fun.

After movement, the children select a seat at the table for small group instruction. Each child is given a box of learning materials. To the children, it looks like they all have the same materials. But the teacher has carefully individualized the boxes based on each child’s interests and developmental needs. The teacher demonstrates what the children are expected to do with the materials in their boxes and then the children have time to practice using their own materials while the teacher observers and guides the learning. After small group, it’s time to head outside to one of the outdoor learning environments that has been specially designed to engage children in learning through nature. Whether the children are tending to their gardens, playing restaurant in the mud kitchen, or staging a production on the outdoor stage, the children are supported in developing not only their gross motor skills, but also foundational academic thinking. When outdoor learning time is over, children wash their hands as they return to the classroom for work time.

Work time includes three distinct activities:

1) Plan: A 10- to 15-minute period during which children plan what they want to do during work time (the area to visit, materials to use, and friends to play with);

2) Do: A 40- to 60-minute worktime for children to carry out their plans (or shift to new activities that interest them); and

3) Review: A 10- to 15-minute period to review and recall with the teacher and to discuss what they did and learned.

Engaging in plan, do, and review helps children develop executive function skills, which are essential not only to success in school, but also in career and life.

Lunch Time

The completion of work time marks brings us to the end of the morning, so it’s time for lunch. The teacher reads aloud while children take turns washing their hands. Children select a seat at a table with plexiglass dividers. The teacher uses gloves to serve each child an individually packaged meal. The teacher engages the children in conversation to support language development. As children finish their meal, they clean up their space, and put out their rest mat, being mindful to allow ample space between each mat.

Children take this time to rest quietly on their mats. Having a rest time helps children become more self-aware and regulate their emotions, as well as helps them gain more energy for the other half of the day. Many children sleep during this time, but they are not required to do so. As the children get up from rest time, they join the teacher for story time. The teacher focuses on literacy skills while reading a book or telling a story. After the story, children once again have the opportunity to express themselves through music and movement. The rest of the afternoon is filled with another small group time, more time outside, and a second worktime, which provides children with the opportunity to continue what they were working on in the morning or to select a whole new project.

Daily Pick-up from Education Center

Staggered dismissal times allow the children in each classroom to be safely escorted outside where their families are waiting for curbside pick-up. When a parent is at the curbside pick-up and signs into the app, the Center will be notified that the parent has arrived. A staff member will escort the child to the car and the parent will scan the QR code on the Center’s device to check-out the child. This automatically updates the system to indicate the child has been safely returned to the family.

Daily Pick-up from Bus Depot

At dismissal, the same bus monitor goes to the children’s classroom to pick them up and take them to their designated buses. He or she helps the children get on the bus and makes sure all children are buckled in safely. Children will be sitting separately, and bus monitors will be keeping an empty row of seats between children to maintain social distance. The windows on the bus will be slightly open to allow natural airflow. During the bus ride to the bus depot, the bus monitor will be wearing a mask and shield and will engage children in songs. Once they arrive at the bus depot, the monitor will greet parents, who will sign out their child using ProCare, our new contactless smartphone application. The bus monitor will take a picture of the parent QR code which will automatically sign out each child.

Our Pre-K 4 SA departments have all worked earnestly to make sure our Education Centers are ready for whenever we open our doors to San Antonio’s 4-year-olds. Pre-K 4 SA is here to continue providing a safe and welcoming environment where children can continue learning and receive a high-quality early childhood education.

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

 

A New School Year in the Time of COVID

Every year, schools throughout the nation use the summer months to prepare for the upcoming academic year. With the surge of COVID-19, this summer’s preparation has been like no other. In addition to the usual tasks of giving classrooms a fresh coat of paint and performing routine maintenance, Pre-K 4 SA is adding new safety features and developing new sanitation protocols to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Drawing on the latest guidance from public health officials and our own consulting physician, we’ve organized our work around three goals:

1. KEEP THE VIRUS OUT OF THE BUILDING

  • Limit who comes in the building. Implementing a touchless, curbside drop-off and pickup process will allow us to continue our practice of having a personal handoff of children each morning and afternoon while keeping social distance.
  • Screen every person, every day. Installing touchless thermometer stations in every building will allow us to quickly take the temperature of each adult and screen for symptoms of COVID. Children will be screened as part of the curbside drop-off process. Our full-time nursing staff will help us monitor for symptoms in children and staff throughout the day.
  • Limit items from outside. Pre-K 4 SA will provide all supplies for the children, including personal items like water bottles and nap blankets. These items will remain at Pre-K 4 SA and we will take responsibility for sanitizing them. Additionally, any item brought into the building by an adult (e.g., purse, lunch bag) will be sanitized upon entry.

2. REDUCE THE CHANCE OF AN OUTBREAK

  • Reduce high-contact surfaces. Touchless sinks, toilets, doors, and paper towel dispensers mean fewer opportunities for hands (big and little) to spread germs. We are also moving away from family-style meals with shared serving utensils to individually packaged meals and snacks.
  • Follow strict sanitation protocols. While Pre-K 4 SA always follows the highest sanitation standards, we are increasing the frequency with which we clean materials, equipment, and facilities. Anything that is used by a child or adult will be cleaned and sanitized multiple times throughout the day.
  • Improve indoor airflow. The most recent guidance on COVID-19 suggests it can be spread through airborne transmission. To help prevent airborne transmission, we are adjusting our HVAC system to bring more fresh air into the classroom and adding higher grade air filters to help capture germs.
  • Increase time outdoors. COVID is much less likely to spread in outdoor areas. We are adjusting our daily schedule to allow children more time in our outdoor learning environments. Children will spend most of the morning outside and may even eat and nap outside, weather permitting.
  • Teach children healthy habits. Washing hands and covering coughs have always been important lessons in early learning, but this year we will also teach children how to use hand sanitizer, how to wear a mask or face shield, and why we need to tell an adult when we feel sick. We will follow these lessons with supportive guidance to help children make these habits part of their everyday routine at school and at home.
  • Create opportunities for safe interactions. Having fewer children in a classroom, keeping the same set of children and adults together, and wearing masks or face shields will help keep children and adults safe while allowing children to continue learning through play.

3. RESPOND QUICKLY TO POTENTIAL COVID EXPOSURE

  • Actively monitor for COVID-19. Pre-K 4 SA teachers have always been mindful to watch for signs that children may not be feeling well. This year, they will proactively monitor for COVID symptoms and seek guidance from our nursing staff at the first sign of illness.
  • Isolate potential cases. If any symptoms are detected, the child will rest in our health clinic away from others until a family member arrives to pick him/her up.
  • If a child or adult is suspected of having COVID-19, the classroom will close immediately and families will be notified. Thereafter, a deep clean and disinfect will be performed and classes will resume via remote learning until it is safe to return to the classroom.
  • If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19, the entire Education Center will close temporarily. This will allow us to conduct contact tracing, identify which children and staff need to quarantine, and clean and disinfect the entire building. While the center is closed, children will be taught remotely until it is safe to return to the classroom.

Given the current spread of COVID-19 in our community, we do not know when we will be able to welcome children and families in person, but we do know that when that day comes, Pre-K 4 SA will be ready.

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

Pre-K 4 SA’s 2019-2020 Cohort Concludes with End-of-Year Parades

After three months of silence at Pre-K 4 SA’s Education Centers due to COVID-19, cheers, laughter and excitement finally filled the outdoor air.

Pre-K 4 SA teachers and staff converted their parking lots into drive-through festivals to host End-of-Year Parades for their students. It was a time to celebrate their students’ accomplishments and it needed to be special despite the health safety precautions in place since March. On June 1, the North Education Center debuted the first parade with the other Pre-K 4 SA Education Centers following, holding their own parades.

Every year, Pre-K 4 SA hosts End-of-Year Celebrations by inviting the students’ families to come and celebrate their accomplishment of completing the Pre-K 4 SA program. Children, with the help of their teachers, usually create “Demonstrations of Learning” binders, a portfolio-like compilation of each student’s work. However, with the pandemic and school closures, there were no in-person End-of-Year Demonstrations of Learning. Instead, Pre-K 4 SA teachers reached out to parents for them to create a virtual collage of Demonstrations of Learning. And, for the very first time, Pre-K 4 SA personnel planned parades for their 2019-2020 cohort.

“I’ve been a pre-k teacher for 14 years and this is the first time I’ve experienced an End-of-Year Parade. I loved the parade because we got to see our students and they got to see us. This was a big party and it was amazing,” said Stephani Alvarado, Pre-K 4 SA master teacher. “My vote would be—COVID-19 or not—that we have End-of-Year Parades like this every year.”

Teachers, staff, and leadership worked diligently to convert their parking lots into festive wonderlands. At the South Education Center, teachers decorated their areas with Hawaiian décor and wore leis and hula skirts. Some wore floating tubes around their waists as if they were about to jump into a pool. Others danced to the beat of the music as parents drove by honking their car horns. Despite the hot temperatures, Pre-K 4 SA teachers and staff waited between noon and 4:00 p.m. as their students and their families came through the parade lines one by one.

Some parents decorated their vehicles with balloons, signs, and banners which added to the overall festive ambiance of achievement. What stood out the most was when the children got to see their teachers. Their faces lit up and at the same time, teachers were overjoyed to see their students again.

“My daughter Eliana was very excited to see her teacher again! For the past three months, she was sad because she hadn’t seen her teacher or her friends,” said Magaly Silva, South Education Center parent. “We really loved and enjoyed the parade! It was well organized and my daughter loved how everyone cheered as we drove through the parade. Thank you, Pre-K 4 SA!”

Every student received a summer goody bag which included his or her Pre-K 4 SA certificate of completion, items for summer activities, and books, which included a recently released book called The Nuff. Pre-K 4 SA wants its students to continue their education and reading throughout the summer as they transition to kindergarten.

Even though Pre-K 4 SA’s eighth cohort may have faced challenging times, the Pre-K 4 SA departments, teams, and families still made it possible for children to continue their high-quality education at home. An End-of-Year Parade was the best way for Pre-K 4 SA to celebrate with their students and families, giving them the proper send-off to kindergarten.

“Our students needed to realize that their teachers and their schools are still here, and this is a celebration for them. Now, they can happily close this chapter of their lives and move onto the next one,” said Alvarado.

The Power of Family Engagement During a Critical Time

As Spring Break 2020 approached, Pre-K 4 SA students and their families were ready for a well-deserved break. However, no one realized spring break would extend into distance learning from home through the end of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pre-K 4 SA acted quickly by collaborating with the San Antonio Food Bank and began food distributions the following week at its four education centers for families needing support. Leadership and teachers knew the importance of providing families with the healthy meals and snacks the children were accustomed to receiving during the regular school day. At the same time, the Pre-K 4 SA family engagement team acknowledged that parents and children would need more support and resources than ever.

Pre-K 4 SA believes in the importance of supporting families to help children have a successful learning foundation. Because education would continue at home, parent liaisons from Pre-K 4 SA’s education centers needed to find innovative ways to provide families a helping hand.

At the start of the school closure, the family engagement team quickly learned which parents could not attend the food distributions due to lack of transportation or poor health. Food items and first aid supplies were delivered to those Pre-K 4 SA families that needed assistance but could not make it to one of the centers. Each week, the team continues to reach out to parents to ensure they have food and their necessities are covered.

The family engagement team also researched local resources to share with families. Parent liaisons provided information related to diaper banks, rental assistance, and how to navigate eviction notices. One main source of information and support services Pre-K 4 SA shares is the City of San Antonio-Municipal Government Facebook page. On this page, the Emergency Assistance program supports the San Antonio community by paying rent, mortgage, internet and utility payments. Families can also qualify for a program that helps them receive direct cash assistance to help them with groceries, medical and gas expenses.

“With Pre-K 4 SA, our families feel they have a good support system that helps them and cares for them during this time of need,” said Virginia Sandoval, family engagement supervisor at Pre-K 4 SA.

The family engagement team began connecting with parents via Zoom video conferencing to continue the Parents as Partners sessions. This program was designed by Pre-K 4 SA to allow parents to engage in conversations collectively and to provide support to one another. The family engagement team saw the necessity to continue Parents as Partners during this time of uncertainty. Maria Montiel, parent liaison with the Gardendale Early Learning program, hosts weekly Zoom meetings for parents to connect and continue their support group. In an effort to accommodate parents’ schedules, Montiel creates flexible evening times for parents.

Montiel noticed that many parents were experiencing anxiety and other mental health struggles. The family engagement team came together and created a bi-weekly, hour-long exercise Zoom class just for parents. The team believes that by helping parents stay active together, they can combat the anxiety which has been triggered by this global pandemic. If you are a current Pre-K 4 SA parent and would like more information about the Parents as Partners program or exercise Zoom class, you may contact Virginia Sandoval at 210-206-2904.

“Parents as Partners is such a great program with the latest resources! I was struggling during this time but I was able to reconnect with other families which provided me with support and encouragement,” said Cassie Jones, a Gardendale Early Learning program parent. “In return, I felt I could also help other families experiencing distress during this pandemic by helping create a Zoom Family Fit program for all parents.”

Parent liaisons are continually performing home visits with families in an effort to connect them with teachers to continue high-quality early learning for the children. When needed, electronic devices, such as iPads, have been distributed to families for children to continue their learning from home and communicate with their teachers.

Additionally, Pre-K 4 SA just launched its Online Resource Center, providing families with more high-quality instruction material. Our educators collaborated to bring together instructional videos to not only share with Pre-K 4 SA families, but with the entire San Antonio community. In the Online Resource Center, you will find intuitive learning videos, read-alouds, bilingual instructions, and activities to support our youngest learners to continue their education at home.

Pre-K 4 SA wants parents to know that if they need anything—related to pre-k or not—to reach out to their child’s teacher or a parent liaison from their designated center. They are ready to help and connect families with needed internal and community resources.

“The traditional school year may be over for our children, but our families will remain a part of Pre-K 4 SA forever because of the bond we have created over the last few weeks,” said Felicia Williams, parent liaison at Pre-K 4 SA.

Helping Your Children Cope during a Time of Uncertainty

Families across San Antonio and the country are dealing with significant changes to their daily lives due to COVID-19. Change almost always triggers some amount of stress and when there is a high level of uncertainty involved, our anxiety also tends to rise. This is a normal reaction that pushes us to plan and be prepared for the unexpected, but it can also take a toll on us. It is essential for our well-being to acknowledge our feelings—anxiety about the uncertainty and sadness for the loss of the way things used to be.

Just like adults, children are experiencing stress and feelings of worry due to the changes in their lives and daily routines. Adults can be most helpful by acknowledging those feelings and allowing their children to give voice to them. Just as important, adults can allow their children to participate in the plan to deal with these very real feelings. As caregivers, we feel a natural responsibility to bear the burden of any hardships for our children. We may respond to worry, fear and concern with comments such as, “It’s ok, you don’t have to worry,” or, “Mama is here. You don’t need to be scared.” It’s a gentle and nurturing form of reassurance. If we make the effort to change that a tiny bit to something such as, “I can tell you’re scared,” or “You’re worried and I know that doesn’t feel good. Mama and Daddy are here with you,” we are communicating to our children that we will protect them but that we also hear them. We are actively acknowledging their feelings. This is beneficial in communication with anyone at any age.

It’s important to remember that pre-school children are still learning to label and express their feelings and, more often than not, it’s changes in behavior that let us know when our children are having strong or distressing feelings. Once children’s feelings are acknowledged, an effective way to help resolve their uncomfortable feelings is to get them involved in the solution to help them feel better. We can do this by allowing children to share their ideas and then discuss them until a plan is decided. Guidance on how to best support children through this period of COVID-19 was developed by the National Association of School Psychologists and is available on its website. Some key recommendations include:

  • Balance truthful information with reassurance according to your child’s age. It is important to answer his or her questions in an age-appropriate manner.
  • Try to maintain a daily routine.
  • Keep children engaged in learning. For pre-school children, remember that learning develops through play.
  • Try to include family activities in your day. Something as simple as going for a short walk together has multiple benefits.
  • Stay safely connected with family and friends through phone calls and video chats.
  • Limit the amount of news programming you watch in front of young children. With older children and adolescents, share accurate information and dispel rumors.

A wonderful book parents and children can listen to together is A Feel Better      Book for Little Worriers, by Holly Brochmann and Leah Bowen. It is available through Magination Press, the children’s book imprint of the American Psychological Association. It can be found at: https://www.maginationpressfamily.org/stress-anxiety-in-kids/magination-press-storytime-a-feel-better-book-for-little-worriers/

If you notice significant regression or concerning changes in your child’s behavior, please reach out to his or her teacher, counselor or a mental health professional. At Pre-K 4 SA, we can connect you with your Educational Center’s behavior specialist or family specialist. Remember that children will learn their responses from watching you. Take time for your own self-care and go easy on yourself. Reach out to us when you need or just to say hello. Together we will get through this difficult time.

Written by: Maria Bayoumi, Pre-K 4 SA’s licensed specialist in school psychology

The Importance of Outdoor Learning during a Time of Quarantine

During this time of quarantine, you might start thinking you’re running out of educational activities for your children. However, remember your outdoor space offers a world of learning experiences your children will enjoy.

Children are instinctively drawn to playing outdoors, and through these experiences, develop a profound connection with nature. Unfortunately, many young children today aren’t afforded these same opportunities due to a variety of reasons: many families don’t have the time or space to allow children opportunities to play outside, parents are fearful of letting their children play outside unattended, and busy schedules of both parents and children don’t allow for supervised outdoor play.

The most prevailing threat that impacts outdoor play today is the ever-growing age of technology and access to it being given to children as young as infants. The number of hours young children are spending on screens (tablets, smartphones and television) has increased significantly. There is extensive research indicating children are spending less time playing outdoors and more time in front of the screen which is creating new deficits in development. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, says “children who play outside are less likely to get sick, to be stressed or become aggressive, and are more adaptable to life’s unpredictable turns.”

While playing, children use and develop their imagination as they interact with both natural and open-ended materials throughout the outdoor learning environments. Children use metal bowls to mix dirt, water and a handful of pebbles to create the most delicious dish. Wearing rain boots, they pull the water hose over to the mud pit where they have created a retaining wall and fill it with water to test it. Boxes and crates become forts and castles. Children wrap the fabric around themselves and hold it together with clothespins and hair ties to make their outfits and costumes. They line up wooden planks, PVC pipes and use boxes to create inclines for yards of ramps and make predictions of who will win the race as they roll wooden balls down the ramps.

Click here for more Outdoor Learning Ideas to do at home.

Throughout the year, children have been participating in growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. They learn how to water, tend and harvest the gardens. Teachers incorporate garden-grown food into cooking lessons for the children. Teachers extend these experiences by engaging children in the Culinary Health Education Program (CHEF) lessons, which provide them with opportunities to cut up their own veggies and follow a recipe to prepare a healthy snack. These experiences help children understand the connection between what they eat and their wellness. Perhaps you and your family can start a homegrown garden in your very own back yard.

When children freely play outside in the outdoor learning environments, they learn to work together and solve problems. They develop perseverance, communication and negotiation skills. The outdoor learning environments provide natural opportunities for children to explore their abilities and take risks. At times, these experiences lead to trips, falls, minor cuts and bruises; however, even these experiences are an important part of development. Learning how to take calculated risks and respond to trips and falls, helps children build resiliency, independence and self-confidence.

Your backyard is another learning environment that will help with your child’s learning and development. Take the time to look around and see the many opportunities your child has to learn about insects, gardens, or simply building his or her own structures. The benefits of your children being outdoors and learning are endless. Be sure to visit our Pre-K 4 SA Online Resources page for weekly educational ideas and activities.

Written by: Sandy Weser, director, North Education Center