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Tired of Waiting for State-Funded Preschool, Gulf Coast Organizations Pay For Free Public Program

By Rhonda Miller | Published 17 Jan 2012 12:06am | comments
The PreK4Ward class for four-year-olds meets in a donated classroom at Central Elementary in Gulfport. Seated at the table, left, is classroom teacher Melinda Watts, who taught in elementary school in Gulfport for 37 years before becoming the first teacher for PreK4Ward, a public-private partnership. program..

Business and education leaders on the Gulf Coast are not waiting around for lawmakers or government agencies to fix Mississippi’s education troubles. As MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports, they’re putting up their own money for a preschool program.

Gigi Hines brings her guitar and her songs to four-year-olds in this class at Central Elementary in Gulfport every Friday. It may sound like an ordinary preschool class, but it’s not. It’s a free, public-private partnership called PreK4Ward.

It  began two years ago when business and education leaders decided preschool is a key to solving Mississippi’s long list of problems – including an education system on or near the bottom of national rankings that drives away potential business.

"In all of our questions that we have in conversations around the state, they all end up back at the doors of education."  That’s Cynthia Walker, project director for PreK4Ward, who says Gulf Coast organizations are putting up enough money to pay teachers and keep the program afloat. Walker wants to see the state put up its share.

"We heard our new Governor Bryant talking about the importance of blueprint ideals and goals that we have. One of those is a quality early childhood education program," says Walker.

"You come back and sit next to your team captain." Melinda Watts has been an elementary teacher for 37 years and assigns team captains as a lesson in leadership. She would  also like to see legislators fund and expand the program.

"If they sit and think about what Mississippi would look like in the next 20, 25 or 30, with these little ones, starting this early," says Watts. "They’re going to be top-notch leaders."

Parents Natasha and Ricky Tate were quick enough to get their son, Jadon, registered ahead of the long waiting list. "He’s even doing words, at four  years old.  He’s taken on reading, already so …"

If the demand continues, PreK4Ward is likely to admit students through a lottery in its two classrooms in Gulfport and Waveland.  Meanwhile, program leaders will be telling state lawmakers that the future of Mississippi begins with four-year-olds.

Images

The PreK4Ward class for four-year-olds meets in a donated classroom at Central Elementary in Gulfport. Seated at the table, left, is classroom teacher Melinda Watts, who taught in elementary school in Gulfport for 37 years before becoming the first teacher for PreK4Ward, a public-private partnership. program..


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