Preschools in Cape area struggling to meet demand

Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Jesse Keller celebrates Thursday his block creation that mimics teacher Karen Schneider's at South Elementary in Jackson. The block exercise enhances children's language, math and motor skills. (Laura Simon)

Leaders of local public and private preschools are happy to see a demand for early childhood education, due in large part to more parents being knowledgeable about benefits of early education, they say. Piles of research show children do better during the rest of their time in school, from kindergarten all the way through college.

But many local preschools are struggling to keep up with the demand, causing long waiting lists and searches for options to increase space.

By the second week in May, two well-known private child care centers will combine, which may help solve some of the demand problem, said Becky Moore, associate director for the University Child Enrichment Center. The center moved into a larger space on Bessie Street last April. The center has around 80 students, and they will be joined by 70 more from the Center for Child Studies now housed in the Scully Building on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University.

The centers offer full- and half-day programs and give priority enrollment to children of students and faculty. When spots are available, community members' children are also accepted. There is always a waiting list, although the number fluctuates, Moore said.

A new elementary school with space for a centralized preschool program could alleviate the wait for some in Jackson, administrators say. The district wants to build a 98,000-square-foot school on North Lacey Street in Jackson with bond money. The project can go forward if voters in the district decide to approve the $16 million bond issue in the April 3 election.

Mariah Brookmyer pieces together a penguin puzzle in her preschool class Thursday at South Elementary School in Jackson.

Jackson will begin preschool enrollment for next year this spring. Assistant superintendent Dr. Beth Emmendorfer said that as of January 268 enrolled were in the district's preschool programs, which include students who fall under Title I and early special education requirements. The waiting list has 145 children, and Emmendorfer said parents are signing up children as early as possible these days hoping for a spot.

"I think it's interesting that we have parents who have children who are 1 and 2 years old and they are calling already so that when their child does turn 3 they are on our list. There's definitely an interest and a need for that early education piece," she said.

The district outgrew space set aside for a preschool at South Elementary when the school opened in 1998 and a couple of years ago and began renting rooms from New McKendree United Methodist Church.

While some Missouri school districts have cut early education offerings recently because of budget constraints, Emmendorfer said the program in Jackson pays for itself because the district charges need-based tuition for students who don't fall under requirements for special education and Title I funding. The district offers half- and full-day sessions. Title I is a supplemental program for students who live in poverty and are at-risk of failing in school; it provides federal funding to qualifying school systems. The state administers funds for early childhood special education and requires that all children determined to need special services are given them in a public school system that can provide them.

In the Cape Girardeau School District, a waiting list for preschool at Blanchard, Clippard and Jefferson elementaries has stayed at around 40 students all year long, said Deena Ring, the district's director of special services. Enrollment is ongoing for the 2012-2013 school year. Around 90 students are served by the district-funded program, which holds two half-day sessions.

Expansion is a priority for the district and would be possible with space that has recently become or will soon become available, Ring said. Space for preschool is being included in the new Franklin Elementary, which is on schedule to be completed this summer. Classrooms that could hold preschoolers were also added recently to Alma Schrader Elementary as part of the $40 million voter-approved bond issue. But available space isn't the only consideration, Ring said.

The district funds the preschool programs and the current annual budget is $133,000, Ring said.

"At this point we aren't looking at cutting the program at all," Ring said. "There is a lot of support for it. But you have to look across the board for all ages and see where the need is."

There has not yet been a decision when or if the programs will be expanded, Ring said.

According to data compiled by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the economic impact of a comprehensive early childhood education program demonstrated a return of $2 to $7 for every dollar invested in the program.


Pertinent address:

One University Plaza, Cape Girardeau, MO

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

614 E. Adams St., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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