Bibb parents to start to register for pre-K lottery

alopez@macon.comJanuary 31, 2014 

  • Hands on experience is the name of the game in Bibb County Pre-K classes. Video by Andres David Lopez

The prekindergarten students sat in groups of six at half-moon tables, with chalk in their hands and construction paper in front of them.

Their teacher, Sam Williams, engaged them in conversation about snow and asked them to describe what they saw, what they felt and what they knew.

They got to play in the white stuff earlier in the day Friday, thanks to the remnants of the week’s winter storm. The tykes were asked to process the experience by drawing and talking about it.

“For these children, this is the first time it snowed in Middle Georgia that they are going to remember,” said Lori Smith, the director of pre-K for Bibb schools.

Smith works at Northwoods Academy, the flagship school in Bibb’s public pre-K program, where 206 children from all across the county are served. The majority of the district’s 818 pre-K students go to classrooms housed in their home elementary schools, but at Northwoods Academy’s building, 11 classes are dedicated to these tiniest of learners.

Friday’s snow activities are part of what Erin Weaver, Bibb deputy superintendent of teaching and learning, calls “playing with a purpose.”

It’s not until they’ve put a snowball in their hands and thrown it at their teacher that pre-K students fully understand what snow is, Smith added.

“Four-year-olds are all about hands on,” she said.

Inside one Northwoods classroom Friday morning, some students played “restaurant” with plastic food and plastic cash, while others laid tracks for toy trains or put on a show with pig puppets.

Though every child in Georgia is eligible for free pre-K, parents in Bibb have to register for the public pre-K program lottery. Registration began Saturday and will run until Feb. 28.

About half of those children registered for the random computer lottery will not be offered enrollment, as there will be more parents who want their children to study at Northwoods and other county programs than there are slots available, Smith said.

Weaver said parents often turn to faith-based or private programs funded by the state when public slots are exhausted through the lottery. They will seek out the best program available because they understand early childhood education offers a head start on a path toward high school graduation, she said.

Gov. Nathan Deal calls Georgia’s pre-K program, which is funded by proceeds from the Georgia lottery, one of the best in the nation. He cites enrollment numbers (84,000 students in 2013), quality of teachers and standards of instruction.

“Georgia is a leading model for preschool across the county,” said Weaver, a former Bibb County schools director of early childhood development.

Smith, who was hired by Weaver, said with increased funding she would like to open more classes and offer more training to teachers. She also would like to invest in playgrounds for schools that don’t have them, she said.

Still, at current funding levels, Bibb’s public preschools are successful, Smith said, as 98 percent of students last year demonstrated they were ready for kindergarten.

President Barack Obama mentioned the importance of pre-K in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

“Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education,” Obama said.

Bobby Cagle, the commissioner for Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, cited some of that research at a media symposium in Atlanta earlier this month.

University of Georgia researchers tracked 500 Clarke County students who attended pre-K in 1999-2000 for 10 years. They found that children who live in poverty and attended the pre-K program outperformed their peers who did not. They also outperformed their peers in elementary school and continued to outperform them in middle school.

Weaver said she’d like to see more long-range studies on the benefits of early education.

“I still feel that school is the great equalizer for all of us,” she said. “Pre-K is important.”

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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