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Starting next year, families in the Branson area will have the chance to enroll their four-year-old kids at the new Cedar Ridge Primary School. Already, Branson has two federally funded preschool programs that focus on helping children with developmental learning needs. This new institution, which is privately funded and requires tuition, will be open for any family who wants to send a child, regardless of learning ability. KSMU’s Rebekah Clark has more.
Already, school districts like Nixa and Ozark have implemented tuition-based preschool programs for their areas. Jennifer Tilley is the principal at the Nixa Early Learning Center, a tuition-based preschool program that has been open for over five years. She says as far as tuition goes, they try to be cost competitive with other childcare programs in the area.
“Every year we have a waiting list for our program. This year for our four-year-old program, it got up to 175 students. And then we also operate a three-year-old program and that waiting list is at 111 students…so well over 300 kiddos waiting to get into our programs. We typically have about somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 spots for kids.”
Although there are many preschool options within those districts that don’t require tuition, the privately-funded schools are more rigorous in curriculum. Dr. Brad Swofford, assistant superintendent of Branson schools, says the demand for this education has been high, partly due to the success rate of other districts that have adopted similar programs.
“There’s a significant push at the state and nationally to make preschool a goal for K-12 public education and ultimately acknowledge the fact that preschool readiness ultimately leading to kindergarten readiness is a vital aspect of student success. Likewise, the common core standards which have been adopted by the state of Missouri have more or less pushed that rigor down, even to pre-kindergarten.”
Children will spend some of their quote “school time” playing with other kids to develop social skills. Swofford says when students are given an opportunity for social, emotional and physical activity at a young age, they have a greater likelihood to succeed later on.
Shelly Worley is the soon-to-be principal of the new school, which will hold its first classes next fall. She echoes Swofford, saying research shows that kids form a lot of their cognitive and social foundation during preschool.
“I have some data here, some research that came directly from our Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. I’ll just kind of share with you what they had put out. One fact here is that fifty percent of intelligence is formed by age four. If you think about that, that’s a pretty staggering percentage. Also, a child’s most productive and influential years of learning occur before the age of five.”
Another interesting tidbit of information? Worley says the research has found that a person’s brain reaches ninety-five percent of its maximum size by the age of six.
She says the program has been a desire of district leaders for awhile, but just recently the district was able to acquire a space to run it. A few years ago, a bond was passed that allowed funding for a new Branson elementary school. The existing building will then be partly used as the preschool.
The district held an informational meeting for parents interested in the program. Already, she says 22 families signed up to enroll their children next fall.
“We really don’t feel like numbers will be an issue, and not to say that there’s not other preschool opportunities because their certainly are. I have visited with many of those preschool programs and we’re in no way in competition with them, but their programs are full as well. They get phone calls weekly; our program gets phone calls weekly, and we don’t have anywhere to send them because there’s just not enough opportunity for preschool in our community.”
They also discussed how much it would cost to send their kids to the new school. Worley says preschool tuition will be $15 a day, or $75 dollars for a full week, since it’s offered five mornings a week for three hours. Parents aren’t allowed to pick the days their children attend, and regardless of how many days they go, it will still be $75 a week.
For more information, you can visit KSMU.org.
For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.