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Information will aid parents in making choices

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Franklin parents who don’t think they can afford preschool or who believe students’ learning starts in elementary school are going to get some help and information to change their minds.

About 63 percent of students who began kindergarten in Franklin this year weren’t prepared for class, meaning they didn’t recognize letters or numbers or were unable to hold a pencil or use scissors, Johnson County Learning Centers director Dawn Underwood said.

Because the economy has been stagnant for nearly five years, many families in Franklin are worried they can’t afford the cost of daycare, Underwood said.

To help those families, Johnson County Learning Centers opened preschools at Webb and East Side Elementary schools in Franklin and Edinburgh, which serve a total of 120 students, including 20 students from low-income Franklin families who are attending for free. The preschool program at Webb is expected to continue and could expand next year, but specific decisions about that as well as whether Johnson County Learning Centers’ program will continue at East Side haven’t been made, Underwood said.

Underwood is working with 11 preschools in Franklin and is looking for more interested in forming a group that could apply for grants to be used for scholarship money. Parents who qualify for the scholarships would then be able to take their child to any of the preschools involved.

But more local parents also need to know how important preschool is for their children, whose brains are 85 percent developed by the time they’re 5 years old. Stay-at-home parents can teach their children letters and numbers but it’s difficult for young students to learn other skills they’ll need such as how to interact with others and sit still in class, Underwood said.

“We do have great programs, the parents just have to find the right program for their child,” she said.

Every preschool program is different and can include traditional, structured programs as well as Montessori-style programs where the students choose through playing what to do each day.

To find the right program, parents looking for a preschool need to tour the preschool and learn the specifics of the program. That will help them better make decisions about whether it’s the best place for their student, Underwood said.

Underwood also plans to start tracking how well students currently enrolled in preschool are doing in kindergarten.

At kindergarten registration this spring, parents will be asked to fill out a survey asking whether their child is attending preschool or daycare as well as specifics about the program. Then Franklin will know the specific number of students who have been in school before kindergarten, and which programs are the most effective, Underwood said.

Along with promoting the need for preschool to parents, Underwood has spent much of the year encouraging them to read to their children through the Franklin READS program, which began in March.

Franklin READS set a goal of donating 1,000 books to local students and having 1,000 parents sign a pledge committing to read to their children at least 20 minutes each day. So far 610 books have been given away and 821 parents have signed the pledge, Underwood said.

Parents who take that time to read to their child, even if it’s the same book over and over, are helping prepare them for kindergarten. That’s because their children have more opportunities to see and begin recognizing letters and see how those come together to form words, Underwood said.

“If we do nothing else, if we read to our children they are learning so many skills,” Underwood said.

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