Free 4K coming to Academy Road
by The Press and Standard | July 4, 2018 5:00 am
Last Updated: July 3, 2018 at 11:51 am
A new free 4K program is coming to Colleton County.
For the first time, 4K will be available at no charge to parents at Academy Road Pre-School beginning with the new school year on Aug. 20. The program is made available through the state’s First Steps to School Readiness.
The funds for the pre-K program have been available to the county for several years, but “this is the first year we’ve had an approvable provider,” said Walterboro resident Martha Strickland, who is state director for First Steps 4K. “It’s been a goal of mine to find an approvable provider that can give Colleton County students these high quality 4K services. And now we’ve got Tammy!” (Tammy Barr, owner and operator of Academy Road Pre-School.)
The program will accept 20 children this year and includes 220 days (the regular school year plus summer classes) of 6.5-hour-per-day instruction. Tuition is funded by the state at no cost to parents. “It’s a creative, research-based early childhood development curriculum where each child works on their own strengths,” Strickland said. “It teaches the basics (like reading and math) but in a child-initiated learning session. Sitting children in seats and giving them lots of paperwork doesn’t work — doesn’t make long lasting, life-long learners.”
A teacher and administrator in Colleton County for over 30 years, Strickland knows first-hand about kindergarteners. She was one of the first teachers in Colleton’s 4K program when it started in 1985 and was last the principal at Black Street Early Childhood Center. “So I know the 4K program like the back of my hand,” she said.
When she got the chance about four years ago to head the state 4K program, she was excited. “It was a big shift for me, moving from the public school system that long to a system where we’re providing public education in private child care. But it’s been a fun experience,” she said. “What I’ve learned about parents is that parents are parents — they’re the same. But what I’ve learned about 4K and the shift to 5K is that 4K parents are so grateful for that 4-year-old year. In 4K, you get these parents who want their children to be in school. They want their kids to be better. They are looking for success for their kids and they’re excited about being in school. If we can keep that momentum going, keep that excitement from the parents, that wanting to educate their children.
“Our legislators have been very supportive of this and they understand that’s where you’ve got to start. You can’t fix it when they’re in middle or high school. You can’t wait until they are in the third- or fourth-grade,” Strickland said.
This program also supports parents because working parents usually want their child in childcare near where they work, not where they live. As long as the family lives in an eligible school district, the child can attend the program at Academy Road whether they actually live in Colleton County or not.
The three criteria that make a child eligible are:
1) Must live in an approved school district. Nearby districts include Colleton, Hampton, Jasper Beaufort, Allendale and the St. George area of Dorchester.
2) Family income must be either Medicaid eligible or free-reduced lunch eligible. (This year, that number is $46,435 for a family of four. The income is determined by how many people live in a household — not just family members.)
3) Child must be four on or before Sept. 1, 2018.
To enroll a child, parents must pick up the paperwork at Academy Road. The packet includes all instructions and a list of required paperwork, but it’s just like registering for public school, Strickland said.
Students must also actually show up for the first day of school on Aug. 20 to be officially enrolled, even if they are approved. The school calendar will be the same as the school district, except for the summer months.
This year’s teacher will be Stephanie Proveaux, who previously taught at St. Luke’s in Summerville before getting married and moving to Walterboro. Her assistant will be Allison Smyly.
Back-to-school and meet-the-teacher meetings are planned prior to the start of school and will be announced when dates are finalized. Lorie Caldwell, also a Colleton resident and long-time teacher, will be the 4K Regional Coordinator providing direct support to the center and class.
“I’m thrilled to be able to have this in Colleton County — in my home where I’ve worked for this long in the school system. I’m just happy that Colleton can get more service for our children because we need that. Our families deserve that,” Strickland said.