State grants boost early learning in Dist. 203

 
 
Updated 3/14/2019 5:55 PM
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Education for the littlest learners in Naperville Unit District 203 got a boost this year, allowing the district to open more preschool classes and provide educational tips to more parents.

Administrators shared the news about the expansion of early childhood services Wednesday and Thursday during Focus 203 engagement sessions about programs designed to help kids across the learning spectrum.

Officials also discussed programs in dual-language instruction, gifted and talented services, high school alternative learning and post-high school transition education for students with disabilities.

"District 203 is committed to meeting the needs of all students through differentiated experiences," said Jayne Willard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "Preparing our students for the ever-changing world and jobs that do not yet exist requires that we are always looking for ways to improve our programs and our services."

Three state grants helped the district increase early services for children from birth to age 5 in three ways, said Christine Igoe, assistant superintendent for student services. The district did not immediately provide the total funding received from the grants, but said they last for five years.

For the first time, the district offered full-day preschool, with four classes teaching 64 students at various elementary schools. The district also opened two extra half-day preschool classes at the Ann Reid Early Childhood Center to teach 36 more students, bringing the total enrolled in preschool to about 500.

The grants funded a major expansion of the Parents as Teachers program, allowing educators to make home visits to 115 families instead of 25.

Willard said all of these actions help students who are at risk of falling behind by giving them an early start.

"We know that early learning begets later learning," she said.

The Parents as Teachers program, especially, helps by introducing parents to resources that can improve their child's physical, social and emotional development and by detecting any learning delays or disabilities so parents can seek treatment.

"We are increasing the likelihood that parents will engage and partner with us when their child enrolls in school," Willard said.

During the Focus 203 sessions, the district asked participants how to improve early childhood and the other targeted programs discussed.

Parent Jenine Hanson said the "coaching model" used in the Parents as Teachers program was intriguing.

"We're really doing a good job trying to reach all the students in the community," Hanson said.

Resident Jim Hill encouraged the district to expand its thinking to see the "community as teacher," not just the parent.

Bob Ross, chief operating officer, said for older students, that's something the district already does. Schools frequently bring in professionals for career days, mentoring opportunities, real-world learning exercises and presentations based on their expertise, he said.

Several parents also suggested starting gifted and talented services earlier than third grade so the youngest students who show strong academic promise can be challenged right away.

Parents in District 203 can access early childhood information by visiting www.naperville203.org/domain/756 or contacting Lisa Curran for details about preschool screenings at (630) 420-6234 or lobrien@naperville203.org.

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