District in need of space as preschool program expands
A program that started in the Park City School District less than a decade ago has since become an integral part of the district and a key talking point during master planning conversations.
The preschool program, which serves 3- and 4-year-olds within the district’s boundaries, expanded quickly since it started at McPolin Elementary School eight years ago. The district intends to add a full-day class to the program next year, but it is running out of classroom space to maintain the growth.
Andrew Caplan, president of the Park City Board of Education, said finding sufficient space for the preschool program is one of the Board’s priorities as it goes through its master planning process. He said preschool is valuable to the district because students who graduate from preschool tend to do better in school as they grow older.
“There are a lot of studies that show when kids have that early foundation — when they understand what a classroom is and how to behave and how to start learning — they are more ready to learn by the time they get to kindergarten,” he said.
The Park City Education Foundation first started preschool in the district as a pilot program. But, as the demand grew, so did the need for space. The district worked with the foundation to provide space for the budding program. Now, preschool is taught at all four elementary schools in the district. The education foundation continues to fund a portion of the program alongside the district.
The district offers a 3-year-old program for students to come for two half-days a week and a 4-year-old program where they attend four full days a week. At Trailside Elementary School, there is not enough space to offer four full classes, so it offers only half-days, said Kathy Anderson, early childhood program specialist for the district.
Next year, the district plans to start a second full-day class at Parley’s Park Elementary School. The full-day class for 4-year-olds will replace its current schedule of two half-day classes for 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. Families who previously brought their 3-year-olds to Parley’s Park will have to enroll in another school’s program.
The district will need to budget an additional $32,000 to make a half-day teacher a full-day one, but the cost will likely be covered by student tuition, said Todd Hauber, business administrator for the district.
Anderson said the district added a second full-day class at the request of parents who work all day. She said the program has been successful in part because there are many working parents in Park City. There are about 160 students enrolled in the program, and there is a wait list.
The program also tries to be affordable. Parents pay tuition on a sliding scale based on their income.
But regardless if parents are working, Anderson said preschool is beneficial for students. She said students who attend preschool tend to be better at reading, and they also learn to socialize with their peers and their teachers.
“It gives them the right start to be ready to succeed in life,” she said. “They learn how to work with other people, which is a lifelong skill.”
She said the district has been supportive of the program, providing her with extra classroom space and other resources when it can. But, she is worried about the future of the program.
There is talk of constructing an early learning center on the Kearns Campus so all preschool classes are in one place rather than scattered throughout town. Anderson said the downside to that plan is that parents like to have their kids in the neighborhood schools so they can get used to them. Plus, some students would have to ride the bus for an extended period of time.
The district’s consulting firm is currently drafting proposals for master plans, and the Board is set to settle on one in the spring.
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