South End Providers Ramping up for Universal Pre-K Rollout

As preschoolers in the IBA bi-lingual program happily accepted their pint-sized diplomas last Friday on the Plaza Betances, it was a celebration of the day for those graduates and their families, but also a celebration for the program as it begins to align its curriculum with Boston Public Schools (BPS) this year for a major rollout of the Universal Pre-K effort championed by Mayor Martin Walsh last spring.

This school year, several early applicants have started offering seats for families seeking Pre-K, and with the childcare crisis continuing in the downtown neighborhoods, those seats cannot come fast enough. The Ellis Memorial program in the South End will offer 35 Pre-K seats this school year, which starts Sept. 9 for the little ones, and Acorn in the South End will offer 20 seats.

Kimberly Nunez receives her diploma at the IBA Pre-school graduation ceremony on Friday morning, Aug. 30. The pre-school is the oldest bi-lingual certified program in the state, and it is one of many that is starting to align with Boston Public Schools to help with Mayor Martin Walsh’s Universal Pre-Kindergarten initiative that starts this school term.

Other providers, like IBA, have received planning grants, in their case a $10,000 grant, from the City to align their curriculum and their teaching force with the BPS’s existing curriculum.

For IBA Director Vanessa Calderon Rosado, the rollout was a smart move in working with existing providers first for the initial rollout. She said providers already have the infrastructure, and it also helps because the school efforts have historically hurt the enrollment for private providers. The marriage of the two has been considerate to all needs.

“The City has recognized that’s a challenge for community-based providers and bringing us together with the City’s effort has been a great match,” she said. “It would have taken the City a long time to ramp up and build out public schools for Pre-K. We’re already doing it, have the facilities and it makes sense.”

Jason Sachs is the executive director for Early Childhood at BPS, and he said the South End providers have been aggressive in being some of the first in the city to start offering these seats. Already, there are about 2,800 Pre-K seats in BPS at school buildings that were established many years ago in a previous in-house BPS effort. But those seats are rare, are highly sought after and include horrifically long waiting lists. There are many more students than seats, and that is a well-known reality for parents in the downtown neighborhoods.

Sachs came in under the Menino Administration and developed a rigorous, nationally acclaimed model that has demonstrated measured changes for children that participate. To get the rollout going this year, he said they wanted to start in the first year with established community-based providers in the neighborhoods like Ellis, Acorn and IBA.

“It was a pretty arduous application process,” he said. “We took applications from community-based providers first for the rollout. It’s very exciting…In the first few years the goal is to do this in community-based programs for 750 seats. We have 2,800 seats in schools already, but there are a lot of families that are working…and can’t access K1. We wanted to offer this to community-based programs first so that we weren’t displacing their existing services, but working with them.”

Sachs said they had a goal of 450 seats this year in community-based programs, and have ended up with 487 that are qualified.

The overall process is a five-year rollout to get Pre-K available to every student.

Calderon-Rosado said their program is decades old, and was the first accredited bi-lingual pre-school in the state. She said they will use their planning grant to begin replacing their curriculum with that of the BPS curriculum, as well as bringing up the education requirements for all teachers. The BPS curriculum requires that all teachers have a Bachelor’s Degree, which in turn helps the teachers to earn more money, Calderon-Rosado said.

“We’re very excited to partner with the City because we feel our children when they come out of IBA will be even better prepared for kindergarten,” she said. “This year will be a year for us to align our curriculum with that of BPS. It’s a planning grant for us to get ready to be part of Universal Pre-K next year.”

Pre-Kindergarten is typically for children ages 4 and 5, and has been shown to make a huge difference in reading scores for children by Grade 3.

Providers offering Universal Pre-K this year will start on Sept. 9.

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