The Bozeman School District is gearing up for a pilot project that would offer preschool education to 4-year-olds that come from low-income families. School officials make note of the fact that there is already a preschool program for students with disabilities and the popular education program Head Start, which supports low-income families. According to school officials, this program would help those students that do not qualify for the other programs yet would benefit from a preschool education.
The project is in anticipation of Governor Bullock’s 2015 legislature proposal that would allocate $37 million from the state’s general fund to be utilized for the development of preschool programs across the state. According to Bullock’s plan, dubbed “Early Edge Montana,” the money would help school districts establish voluntary, half-day preschool programs for 4-year-olds. Neither schools nor parents would be required to establish a preschool program or participate in a preschool program, but Bullock and supporters cite the fact that numerous studies have shown that children who attend preschool are much more likely to succeed in later schooling, much more likely to finish high school and by extension more likely to contribute to society in general.
The entire state of Montana needs to focus more on early childhood education. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, Montana is one of just ten states that do not have early childhood education programs. The education system is arguably the most important facet determining the ongoings of society, and putting more emphasis on other unrelated state issues is like putting the cart before the horse. Compared to other states, Montana’s education system is lacking. As Bullock sees it, promoting statewide access to preschool education is “the best investment we can make.” If the 2015 legislature aims to promote the interests of Montana and its citizens, then this initiative ought to be the highest priority.
Regarding the proposed pilot preschool program here in Bozeman, Rob Watson, the Superintendent of Bozeman School District 7, was quoted in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle saying, “It’s a pilot [program] to see if the need is there, . . . We think it is, but until we start, we really don’t know. We’d like to test the waters and get a curriculum lined out in case the governor’s plan passes.” If trustees agree with the proposal, officials will select 4-year-olds within the next month, hire staff by the middle of December and open the preschool on Jan. 5. The current proposal is for a preschool class of 20 children taught by one teacher and housed in a classroom in Whittier School. If approved, the preschool class will be open to all Bozeman families.
Every person should have access to a quality education, and that should not exclude access to preschool. Although preschool is often more about socializing than conventional learning, one could argue that the most important thing a child learns in preschool is how to properly socialize with his or her peers. Social skills are a critical factor in student success as well as success throughout adult life. Preschool offers children the opportunity to socialize with other children they would most likely not spend time with otherwise, allowing them to learn valuable lessons well before Montana’s current educational system would have them start school. Bozeman’s pilot preschool program will be a great opportunity for twenty children to start building the foundational skills that will propel them into successful lives in the future.
However, the proposed Bozeman preschool, as well as other potential new preschools across Montana, will have to comply with current standards and potentially develop new standards to ensure that they meet early childhood education benchmarks. It is crucial that the standards used for developing and assessing the preschools focus more on nurturing each child’s potential and individual interests rather than the baseline measure of preparedness for kindergarten. Too many education systems reduce the process of learning to the mundane task of rote memorization and regurgitation of endless facts and figures. Instead, these new preschools could be a revolution in early childhood education if they just allow for more creativity and the development of personal interests. The introduction to the 2014 Montana Early Learning Standards states that one of the purposes of the standards is to “acknowledge the diverse value systems in which children learn and grow.” The developers of the proposed Bozeman preschool, as well as the developers of the other preschools to be instituted across Montana, must make this their major focus.
Preschool ought to develop a child’s love of learning, not the love of memorization. All children love learning new things when they’re young, but many lose their interest in school after spending years memorizing inconsequential facts. Most say that college is meant to teach students how to learn and solve problems rather than a more extensive list of facts. Why shouldn’t that kind of education start when a child is in preschool?