FISD pilot program highlights need for childhood education options

FISD pilot program highlights need for childhood education optionsFrisco parents will now have more options for childcare as the number of private preschools in Frisco increases and Frisco ISD looks to expand its preschool program.

In the past year, more than 20 new private preschools opened in Frisco. This fall, Frisco ISD’s Early Childhood School will pilot a new tuition-based program with limited slots for students who do not meet the state requirements for the free program.

“There is a greater awareness that [early childhood education] does make a difference and is a positive indicator of future success for children,” said Laurie Tinsley, FISD area director of elementary instruction.

FISD pilot program highlights need for childhood education optionsFISD early childhood program

Preschool is a program that FISD has always offered but only at some campuses, Tinsley said. The Early Childhood School, or ECS, opened seven years ago to centralize the program and have a wider reach throughout the city, Tinsley said.

The school is a separate campus that serves 3- and 4-year-old students throughout FISD in a preschool program.

The program is offered for free to lower-income and limited-English children as well as children from foster homes and military families. The district also offers free preschool programming for children with disabilities.

The district is piloting a tuition-based program this fall to be able to expand that reach even further to those students who do not meet the tuition-free requirements.

“If we can reach more Frisco children and make sure they have an education from pre-K to 12th grade, it can even further their achievements and success beyond high school,” ECS Principal Melissa Ellis said.

FISD pilot program highlights need for childhood education optionsThe pilot program, which begins this fall, has limited spots available.

“We want to make sure that any programs we offer are done with very thorough planning and offering the best to our families,” Ellis said. “So that’s why we only have limited spots. We want to pilot it and work out the kinks.”

ECS in the past year has grown from about 500 students to almost 900 students, Ellis said. By the end of the 2015-16 school year, she expects it to surpass 900.

Ellis said according to state data, children who have been in FISD from kindergarten through grade 12 tend to do better than those students who have been with the district for less time.

“We know we can positively impact a child’s life and set them up for college, have a solid career and be a very positive contributor to society,” Ellis said. “So we can expand that impact by another year, and that was also a big driving force for the tuition-based    program.”

Tinsley said there is also a push from a national and state level to expand early childhood education.

In the previous Texas legislative session, the Legislature approved an additional $130 million in funding for pre-K programs in school districts. School districts that qualify for funding are required to use curriculum approved by the Texas Education Agency. FISD has been using the curriculum and has applied for the additional funding.

FISD pilot program highlights need for childhood education optionsScience of a developing child’s brain

According to the Center of Public Education, educators throughout the country have discovered that reform efforts in kindergarten through 12th-grade education systems are sometimes insufficient.

By the time some children reach kindergarten, they are already far behind their peers in skills and measures of school-readiness compared with those who received education before kindergarten.

These educational gaps become more difficult to close as children advance through elementary school, middle school and high school, according to the center.

A national early childhood study done by Georgetown University in 2004 showed students who attended a pre-K program scored higher on reading and math tests than children who did not attend pre-K programs.

“One of the things that [research has] found is that kids [who were in pre-K] are better in their reading ability with their ability to sit still, pay attention and take in more information,” said Mandy Maguire, associate professor of behavioral and brain sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. “But the real benefits to a community are actually the long-term implications.”

The HighScope Educational Research Foundation from 1962-67 examined the lives of 123 children through the age of 40 who did and did not attend preschool at the ages of 3 and 4. The study found adults who attended preschool as children had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not attend preschool as children.

“These really early foundational abilities have more long-term outcomes well into the future, and it may be that brain development that’s happening early that is allowing for some of [these results],” Maguire said.

Maguire said the basic architecture of the brain begins to be constructed through a process early in life and continues through adulthood.

Maguire said a child’s brain is creating many connections between neurons in different areas of the brain, so early experiences can establish a foundation for learning, health and    behavior.

“Education at [3 or 4 years old] can provide a better foundation for children to build on those connections,” she said.

Different styles of teaching

At an early age, children can take in a lot of information but overall learn better through play, Maguire said.

“What’s amazing about kids who are 3 and 4 is that even if they’re just playing, they’re learning,” Maguire said. “Preschoolers are very much programmed to be learners.”

Many private preschools in Frisco present their early childhood education in different ways. Some schools are geared toward science and technology, and others are geared toward performing arts and language.

At the Musical Arts Schoolhouse on Preston Road, the school’s concept is teaching high academics through the performing arts experiences.

The students move from classroom to classroom throughout the day learning music, theater, dance and art with teachers who are specialists in their art fields as well as in early childhood education. Teachers use the art form to teach students academics like reading and math.

“We’re creating young people who have these wonderful relationships with all these professional teachers throughout their career here at our school,” Musical Arts Schoolhouse Director Chris Duncan said. “We have a lot of stimulating things that are happening at our school, and we feel like it’s so well-rounded for the children.”

Spanish Schoolhouse, a Spanish-immersion preschool on Esther Way, provides a formal education in Spanish to immerse children in the Spanish language. Every subject is given in Spanish.

Spanish Schoolhouse Director Beatríz Gómez said about 95 percent of the students enrolled at the preschool are not native Spanish speakers and have parents who want them to learn a different language.

“Not only are our children receiving an education but they are also learning Spanish and the best ages to learn a second language is between 2 and 6 years old,” Gómez said. “It’s important to learn a different language not only because it fosters an appreciation for other cultures, but their brains become more developed.”

Maguire said research shows that just playing and having fun can have educational benefits for children under a certain age.

“There’s ample evidence these experiences are really good for kids, they learn a lot, makes them school ready and have great long-term outcomes,” Maguire said. “The fact that we are moving toward this a lot more throughout the country is really beneficial to the kids, and I think as a community and a society it’s going to be more beneficial.”

By Nicole Luna
Nicole Luna is the Senior Reporter for Frisco. She covers development, transportation, education, business and city government. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Spanish from The University of Texas at Arlington and has been with Community Impact Newspaper since June 2015.