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Project Idaho: Idaho City school works to make preschool more accessible

School Principal Jamie Pilkerton say about 20 students attend full day preschool on a rotating schedule three days a week.

Idaho is one of only four states that doesn't invest any state funding in preschool. Only 30% of Idaho's three and four year olds are in a program.

But a handful of districts have found a way to provide preschool for many kids in their communities.

In the Treasure Valley Boise and Caldwell have worked to create local collaborative preschools. For the last few years they've been finding ways to fund and create programs for our youngest minds without any money from the state.

Basin Elementary School in Idaho city has been doing it for about 20 years and they say they're seeing results.

School Principal Jamie Pilkerton say about 20 students attend full day preschool on a rotating schedule three days a week.

"As soon as you walk in they are grabbing you and wanting to show you something that they're doing," Pilkerton said. "I wanna show you what I just built, I want to show you what I just made. They are eager to learn."

Pilkerton has been at the school since the preschool program really took off.

"Our goal is to make sure that every four-year-old in our district has an opportunity to participate in preschool if their parents would like them to," Pilkerton said.

She says most parents do because over the years they school has seen real results.

"We've been tracking the students that have gone through our preschool program that have remained in our district. Once they leave our district it's really hard for us to keep track of that but of the students that have gone through our program and remained in our school district, we have 100% that have graduated," Pilkerton said.

The program focuses on getting students kindergarten ready, both socially and academically.

"It's definitely not students sitting in desks with paper and pencil," Pilkerton said. "That's not what we do at preschool but there's so much learning that happens through activity, story time, calendar time, that our students are getting a rich environment."

Beth Woodruff started the first small program in 1994 with the help of Head Start, providing preschool for a handful of low income and special needs students.

"The results were really amazing right at first. We had a population of kids that maybe didn't have the professional influence at home and then the professional families that were coming at different timesfor kindergarten initially and those kids really never caught up in school and what we've seen just the exposure to cooperative play pre-literacy pre-numeracy you really get a handle on how much the kids can learn early and in a play setting," Woodruff said. They thrive really."

Years later a grant helped the specialized program grow into a free universal preschool for all three and four year olds within the district.

All of this was done without any state funding so it hasn't been easy.

"It was a scramble after the grant ran out Kathryn Albertson decided not to fund preschool programs anymore and so we got a grant with Idaho community foundation which helped for a period of time." "when we lost that grant it was really up to the districts to see if they could keep it going we kept cutting and cutting, parents as teachers went by the wayside and pretty soon we weren't having as many days a week, we cut the amount of time in preschool."

They say funding hit an all time low during the recession so they had to make even more changes.

"Now all of the four year olds in our district are eligible to attend," Pilkerton said. "And we do have some three year olds that attend that are getting some special services."

And with exception of some students under scholarship or with special needs they began charging a tuition of $150 per month. Though it's been difficult they say it's important to keep it going.

"When you're spending the first part of kindergarten just getting those routines in place and just getting some basic how school works we do lose instructional time because those things must be taught first so the kids that do come in from preschool they have an advantage," Pilkerton said.

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We are making a long-term commitment to reporting on education. If you have a story about Idaho education we should look into, email us at ProjectIdaho@kboi2.com

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