WESTMINSTER - Last year, Leona Lawless spent three hours each day teaching her preschool students at Hodgkins Elementary School in Adams County. She says that was never enough time.
"When I only have them for three hours a day, I wasn't able to be consistent," Lawless said.
This year, she is running one of seven classrooms in a pilot program to provide free all-day preschool to families in a district with mostly low income families. Lawless now has her 4-year-old students for twice the time as other preschools. She admits it can be a long day for the little kids.
"But, they're also getting a lot more time for academic work, for teaching them language," Lawless said.
Mat Aubuchon is the director of early childhood education for Westminster Public Schools. He says the simple factor of time can make a big difference,
"More contact with the teachers, more time in school will show us better outcomes when the kids hit kindergarten," Aubuchon said.
Aubuchon says finances are a big barrier for providing this kind of service for families, but Westminster Public Schools worked with Gary Community Investments and the Ben and Lucy Ana Walton Fund to pay for 112 students to try this pilot program.
"It's exciting to be on the cutting edge of trying something new," Aubuchon said.
Lawless believes the impacts will be felt for years.
"In the long run, you're going to see better test scores, say third grade. You're going to see less dropout," Lawless said.
Aubuchon says the program will also help families with employment by saving them money for all-day daycare or by not working to deal with having only preschool for part of the day.
"If as a byproduct, it helps some families go back to work, then we're kind of accomplishing two means with this program," Aubuchon said.
The district will assess the results after three years. But, Lawless says her students are ahead of her students from last year at this time.
"It's making a huge difference already," Lawless said. "All of the factors, if you start young and you start training them young, it makes a huge difference in the future."
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