Great Start Readiness Program offers free preschool to qualified children. 

November 1, 2021

Great Start Readiness Program offers free preschool to qualified children. 

West Shore School News is a presentation of West Shore Educational Service District in partnership with Mason County Press and Oceana County Press. 

By Kim Beardslee, correspondent. 

AMBER TOWNSHIP (Mason County) — The West Shore Educational Service District partners with 10 locations throughout Mason, Lake, and Oceana counties to provide preschool programming. Significant research has been conducted on the long-term benefits of high-quality preschool experiences. The Michigan Department of Education’s Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) has a rich history of providing high-quality preschool programming to the state’s most vulnerable children.

The West Shore ESD GSRP programs can be found at Baldwin Community Schools, Ludington Area Schools, Mason County Central Schools (Victory Early Childhood Center), Mason County Eastern Schools, Hart Public Schools, Shelby Public Schools, and Walkerville Public Schools. In addition, it partners with three community based organizations: Oaktree Academy in Partnership with Gilden Woods in Mason County’s Hamlin Township, Pentwater Preschool, and Small Wonders Child Development Center in Mason County’s Pere Marquette Charter Township.

Studies have shown that high-quality GSRP programs prepare children to be successful in kindergarten and throughout life using developmentally appropriate practices through a play-based curriculum. Qualifying students, (4-years-old by September 1, income level, and other eligibility factors) participate in a free, full day preschool program which includes breakfast, lunch, and transportation (majority of programs). All classrooms qualify as a child care facility following the State’s Licensing, Rules and Regulation.  Classrooms provide a 1:8 staff to student ratio as required by the State of Michigan and are run by highly qualified teachers.

“Within our region we are also fortunate to have some GSRP sites that offer child care services beyond the traditional school day to help our working parents,” said Angela Taylor, director of Mason County Central’s Victory Early Childhood Center. “Not only is GSRP a well rounded program for the whole child, it is a well rounded program to support the parents of our region with knowledgeable staff in helping get the support the whole family might need to support healthy whole family outcomes.”

“In 2019, upon reviewing student data we determined it was time to analyze and research curriculums in order to increase student achievement,” said Brenda Vronko, the ESD’s early childhood supervisor/instructional services.

As a result WSESD’s GSRP program sought out a new curriculum that would provide an interdisciplinary approach and emphasize the whole child. School staff also were seeking a curriculum that provided a scope and sequence for skill development so that the 18 classrooms could progress through the curriculum at relatively the same rate.

The WSESD/GSRP now utilizes the Connect4Learning (C4L) curriculum, published by Kaplan, that focuses on teaching across four domains. These domains are connected science experiences, Engaging math, authentic literacy, and social-emotional development for all learners. C4L uses a project-based approach, in which children work towards a larger goal. High-interest learning centers that support and extend children’s growing understanding in social-emotional skills, science, literacy, and mathematics are a fundamental part of a child’s preschool experience.

“Within a project based curriculum it is wonderful to see the children taking ownership of their learning and their environment, and due to the increased engagement of the children the learning is able to be extended leading to a more solid knowledge base and that increased engagement and motivation to learn,” Taylor said.

“When conducting recent student growth data after implementing the C4L curriculum we have found that 93% of the children attending GRSP are meeting or exceeding expectations!” Vronko stated. “Since 2019, WSESD GSRP has been awarded $152,000 to implement the new curriculum. This curriculum award money has allowed for the purchasing of curriculum kits, additional materials ( aloud books, manuals for each teacher) and training for staff in order to implement the C4L curriculum with fidelity.”

WSESD has also developed a web-based “Preschool Page” which contains information for families with preschool children. This resource mainly came out of the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of moving programs online, however continues to be maintained. This robust webpage not only provides C4L lesson plans but contains multiple resources for parents who are seeking tools to help support their preschooler’s education.  In addition, the webpage contains an application for preschool registration and the locations of WSESD GSRP Preschool Programs.

Vronko said if any family member is interested in learning more about GSRP to reach out to or stop in at a local program. Applications are not only online but available at each GSRP location.

The program is also looking for teachers. WSESD is still hiring for the 2021-22 school year and looking for classroom staff including teacher positions in Hart and Baldwin and associate teacher positions in Hart and Mason County Eastern. For more information on employment, visit WSESD’s website.

Rob Alway, editor-in-chief, contributed to this article. 

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