High-stakes testing. Rigorous new Common Core standards. Though there may be debate about whether or not these are productive additions to the academic world, there is no debate that students are expected to perform at a higher level than previous years. At present, many teaching methods and new curricula are being trotted out as potential ways to ensure students will successfully meet these goals. Yet if recent studies are to be believed, there is one single factor that predicts academic success better than any other: attending preschool.
Studies conducted in Oklahoma, Georgia, Texas, and New Jersey, states which have large-scale preschool programs, have shown tremendous benefits, both academic and financial, for the children who attended preschool as four-year-olds. According to Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, high quality preschool programs have been found “to return as much as ten dollars for every dollar invested, from higher earnings, lower crime, and reduced government costs later in life.”
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, only 45 percent of New York State’s four-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded preschools. Saugerties, like most districts, does not have a preschool program. Parents who wish to reap the benefits of a preschool education for their children have to pay for private school.
Lori Adorno, owner of Giant Steps Preschool in the village, says she wishes Saugerties would provide universal preschool, considering that “kindergarten just isn’t what it was when we were children. It is hard with New York State’s Common Core standards being what they are, for children to go into kindergarten without a strong foundation.” Adorno, whose preschool has a full-day program, says some working parents choose this program in lieu of sending their children to daycare. “They are able to promote their child’s education as well as using it as a safe and loving place for their child,” she said. At the same time, she knows that this is not an option for all parents. She said she’s received calls from parents who could not afford the tuition asking if she would accept Social Services funding.
Others, like stay-at-home mom Roxanne Ferber, do their best to get their children ready at home. “We haven’t enrolled our three-year-old twins in preschool because we can’t afford to on a single income,” she said. Ferber recognizes the importance of preschool, though, and plans to send her girls to preschool at age four. In the meantime, she does educational activities at home to help prepare them.
Saugerties’ closest neighbor, Kingston, has what Superintendent Paul Padalino calls a hybrid program, with part of the funding going to preschool classes taught by teachers employed by the Kingston City School District in district-owned buildings and the other part going to private and parochial providers. Parents of children turning four years old in December of each school year may fill out an application choosing from nine different preschool programs within the city. A lottery is then held to fill the spaces at each site. Some years there is a waiting list and other years there is not, but even in the years when there is no waiting list, Padalino says, “we never have empty slots.” Parents, he suggests, understand the importance of a preschool education.
As to why Kingston has a universal preschool program and Saugerties doesn’t, Padalino notes that the perceived need in a district factors into the state decision to provide funds, and may have something to do with the absence of the program in Saugerties. Saugerties officials could not be reached for comment.