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Local pre-K providers report that many spaces remain available for children to join pre-K classrooms this school year.

Pre-K programs offered in Glynn County and funded by the state are free and fully day and classroom-based.

It’s rare for there to be so many open spaces in local programs, said Brian Griffin, a pre-K quality support specialist assigned to Glynn and surrounding counties by Bright from the Start, the state agency that monitors and regulates the Georgia pre-K program.

“It’s very unusual, especially Glynn County, I can tell you that,” Griffin said. “… Statewide we’re seeing this. You have parents that aren’t quite ready to let their kids go back out in the public.”

There’s likely many reasons, he said, that some parents have not enrolled their children in pre-K this year. In most years Glynn County’s pre-K programs have waiting lists at the start of a new school year.

“Right now, you’ve still got parents that are just nervous,” Griffin said.

A campaign has been launched this week to educate families about the open pre-K spaces and the importance of early education.

“We attribute the much smaller number of low income children attending pre-K here in Glynn to three things — lack of awareness, the fact that bus service is not provided to all public pre-K children, except for a pilot test at FACES, and the fact that it is not mandatory,” said Melinda Ennis-Roughton, executive director of Family Connection, Glynn.

“So again, people in low income communities simply may not be aware that pre-K is available.”

In Glynn County, state-funded and regulated pre-K programs are offered at FACES and in most of the district’s elementary schools.

Glynn County also has three private providers — the Golden Isles YMCA, Quilla Academy and Head Start at Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority.

Georgia pre-K is funded by the state lottery.

Nearly 40 pre-K spots were open as of Wednesday, Griffin said, including at the Y in Brunswick and Quilla Academy.

Several openings are also available at FACES, said principal Stephanie Thompson.

Glynn County Schools offers 23 pre-K classes, which is not enough slots for all pre-K aged children in the county.

“Therefore, we always have a pre-K waiting list of students, so when a student withdraws, the next student on the waiting list is contacted to fill the pre-K slot,” she said. “Pre-K slots are filled based on elementary school zoning.”

This year, Thompson said, many families were registered for pre-K but changed their minds due to COVID-19 fears.

The awareness campaign launched this week aims to promote the importance of pre-K education, which research has shown will greatly help a child succeed.

“Research shows that Georgia’s pre-K makes significant difference in school readiness, preparing children for kindergarten and for school,” Griffin said. “It’s more than daycare. There’s standards that teachers are teaching. There’s curriculum they use and really it’s more of the social skills and the fine motor skills and other things that they’re learning.”

A 4-year-old who attend pre-K without any prior school experience is learning a host of new skills daily, and that early education becomes the foundation for future academic success.

“Their brains are like little sponges, and so they absorb up so much information,” Griffin said. “And the earlier you teach children, the more likelihood of retention.”

Only 32 percent of eligible low-income children in Glynn County attend pre-K, according to Family Connection data. The state average for the same group is 48.1 percent, and Glynn County is in the bottom 20 counties in the state for percentage of low-income children in pre-K.

However, 65.4 percent of all children in Glynn attend pre-K, and that number exceeds the state average of 60.1 percent.

“Research has proven that the (gains of) children who attended Georgia pre-k...were more significant than the ones who did not attend,” Griffin said. “… We want children to develop a desire to learn, and part of that is being better prepared for kindergarten. And in pre-K, they’re learning through play, like through a play-based approach to learning — engaging with one another, having those back and forth conversions and interactions.”

FACES aims to provide a positive learning experience with family and community involvement while preparing children for their next educational step, Thompson said.

The main goal of pre-K is to prepare all students and families for a smooth transition into kindergarten, she said.

“As a parent, we are our child’s first teacher, but preschool and pre-K experiences allow students to begin their more structured journey to graduation from high school, college and career. We instill lifelong learning skills in our students beginning at an early age.”

Parents with children who are 4 years old and residents of Glynn County are eligible to apply, although some restrictions may apply.

To register or learn more, call 1-877-255-4254.

Parents can also call Quilla Academy at 912-267-010) or the YMCA at 912-265-4100 to register directly for their available slots. For more information, visit www.decal.ga.gov/PreK.

“I feel, and the statistics show, that pre-K students have a far easier time transitioning into the educational system,” Thompson said. “We want to set students up for success so that we can make our educational system strong and produce highly educated and successful members of society.”

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