The Brunswick News - By Anna Hall

Children who start kindergarten without first attending a pre-kindergarten program are starting out their educational career already behind. And catching up in the years that follow can be all but impossible for many youngsters.

That’s a fact known readily by local educators, but efforts are now being made to stall the onset of delayed learning, thanks to a new pilot program being launched this summer as a partnership between the Communities of Coastal Georgia Foundation and the Glynn County School System.

The new program, Leaping into K, is meant to focus on at risk students, those who are not enrolled in pre-k programs and whose home environment may not be the most conducive to supporting academic achievement, said Valerie Hepburn, President and CEO of the Foundation. “If you start out behind, the odds are, you stay behind. And students who stay behind have a much higher drop-out rate,” Hepburn said. “With an evidence-based design and a curriculum modeled after nationally recognized programs, Leaping into K has the potential to be that game changer for children who haven’t had the benefit of significant family support and robust pre-k experiences.”

Slated to launch in July for a three week pilot session, the program will work with at least 36 area students who fall into the at-risk category, meaning they received no pre-kindergarten experiences and will enter kindergarten for the 2016-2017 school year. As now planned, the program will be housed at Goodyear Elementary School, with three certified teachers, three paraprofessionals, and a lead teacher with experience in such programs, as well as with additional assistance from the county preschool principal Stephanie Thompson and the Executive Director of Early Academics Sung Hui Lewis.

The overall cost of the program, estimated to be between $30,000 and $40,000, will be covered by the Foundation, while the school system will provide the host site and lunch for students, Hepburn and Lewis said. Final plans for the program are still in the works, with Lewis and a small team of educational partners set to travel out of state later this spring to observe a similar program in action in Texas. Following that trip, complete blueprints for how the program will pan out will come to fruition, Hepburn said. She and members of the Foundation have commended Lewis and Goodyear Elementary School assistant principal Oatanisha Dawson for recognizing the need to design a program to support students at an early age to fully promote their education from the get-go.

“We are ironing out a few of the initial details, but we are hopeful that this pilot program will produce outstanding results for these most deserving young people,” Hepburn said. “Their success will benefit the Glynn County School System and the community overall. This is one more way we can reach out to the essential elements needed in the community and use philanthropy to fill in the gap.”

When presented with the concept for the program at this month’s Board of Education session, held Tuesday, board members voiced their encouragement and support. “Anything we can do to get our children exposed to kindergarten early on is an effort worth investing in,” said board chair Mike Hulsey.