Getting kids off to Bright Starts in preschool

Getting kids off to Bright Starts in preschool

URBANA — In response to a lack of opportunities for wait-listed preschool-age children, the Urbana Early Childhood School has partnered with the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana to offer an alternative prep course for kindergarten.

Launching today: Junior League Bright Starts, open to about 40 children who will be introduced to preschool academics and taught skills crucial to their futures, according to UECS Principal Cris Vowels.

"Research shows repeatedly that to be successful in high school and post-high school, early childhood education is key," Vowels said. "Children who attend preschool are better readers, work more collaboratively with others and are better problem-solvers.

"They also have a lesser rate of unemployment and jail time later in life, they value education and will make higher wages as adults. That in itself will make us a better community."

The Champaign and Urbana school districts typically have about 250 students on waiting lists for preschool classes, Vowels said. Bright Starts was developed to help some of them — and their parents — get ready for kindergarten, she said.

The program will begin its pilot year at 5:30 p.m. today at the UECS. The two preschool classes will mirror early childhood classes at UECS, and the adult course will give parents an overview of what the children are learning and how they can continue to develop those skills between monthly sessions.

In the hourlong child classes, students will work on group behavior skills through UECS's Second Step curriculum. They'll learn about how to use their words when they're upset, how to ask questions and how to develop friendships with classmates.

On the academic side, children will participate in several literacy and math-based lessons, like singing songs, counting objects, building things, learning problem-solving abilities and creating in groups. The ultimate goal is then for parents to sustain the curriculum by practicing those skills on a daily basis, Vowels said.

"We are bringing these good, research-based practices into the home so families can help their kids get ready, even though they don't have a preschool teacher right with them," she said. "Parents are the lifelong teachers of their children, and they need to be involved in education from age 3 and on, at every stage."

The project has been in development for a couple years and is part of a new "school readiness" focus the Junior League of C-U adopted five years ago, according to President Denise Bates.

The Junior League has a group of eight volunteers working on its Bright Starts committee, plus nine others who will volunteer at each session. The JLCU will also pay UECS teachers a stipend for the evening classes. The program will take place on the second Tuesday of each month, except in December, leading up until the end of the school year in April, with dinner and childcare provided each session, according to Sara Olson, the Junior League Bright Starts Chair.

Ultimately, Olson would like the program to be made available to all Urbana and Champaign wait-listed preschool age students. But for now, she said, "We're very excited to move forward with what we think will be a long-standing relationship and valuable asset to this community."

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