Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

FRONT PAGE STORY>>Beebe likes pre-K class during visit

Leader staff writer

With a platform of improving education in the state, Attorney Gen. Mike Beebe, the Democratic candidate for governor, Monday visited Ward Central Elementary School’s pre-kindergarten program that he hopes to implement statewide. According to principal Michele French, it was a chance for lawmakers and school board members to look at the school’s pre-K classes and see how it helps youngsters get their start in school.

“It was a chance for us to spotlight our program and what we do for kids,” French said. “We are proud of what we do and the kids are great.” Beebe’s education program includes a fully funded quality pre-kindergarten program for all 3- and 4-year-olds, and after watching pre-K teachers at Ward Central, Beebe said he was glad he had seen it in action. “It lets me see what I’ve talked about and how effective it is,” Beebe said. “I see it in practice.”

There are 11 pre-K classes in the Cabot School District; seven at Ward Central, two at Westside Elementary, and two at Northside Elementary. After a tour of the pre-K program, including stops in numerous classrooms, Beebe said it was “a great system.” He described his look at Ward’s pre-k program as “a wonderful implementation of a quality program,” stating that school board and parent involvement are indicative of a quality school system.

“Pre-k programs elevate the academic quality of our students,” Beebe said. “Nobody does it any better.” Beebe believes that continuous learning starts early; pre-kindergarten is vital for future learning, school readiness and success in the job market, he said.

“It’s a validation of what I’ve been saying,” Beebe added. “They (Ward Central) are a first class school and are really committed.” Ward Central’s pre-K program is part of the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS) program, which is designed to assess group programs for children of preschool through kindergarten, ages 2 ? through 5.

A science lesson on metamorphosis was being taught in one class when Beebe looked in, using tadpoles as an example.
“Metamorphosis?” Beebe asked, surprised that an eight-grade science topic was being taught to three- and four-year olds.
“This is where we’ve got to go,” Beebe said of the school’s program.

Ward Central’s pre-kindergarten program is grant funded, with money coming from both the Arkansas Better Chance for School Success (ABCSS) and the 21st Century Community Learning Center (21stCCLC). The 21stCCLC funding is used for Ward Central’s afterschool programs. The 220 pre-kindergarten students at Ward Central attend full school days, and go once a week to art, library, music, physical education and science lab activity classes.