Changes loom for Quincy School District's pre-kindergarten program

Landon Buxton, 3, of Quincy, hands Cindy Awerkamp a square block during a preschool screening day Wednesday at the Early Childhood and Family Center. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Jun. 15, 2013 8:50 pm Updated: Jun. 30, 2013 1:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Changes are being made in the pre-kindergarten program at the Quincy School District's Early Childhood and Family Center, and the biggest will require the 4-year-old participants to attend sessions five days a week for 2 1/2 hours a day.

Previously, pre-K students attended Mondays through Thursdays for three hours a day, but the state is mandating a move to five-day attendance. While students will end up getting slightly more classroom time -- 12 1/2 hours per week instead of 12 -- the change also will result in higher transportation costs for the district and fewer meals for kids.

Julie Schuckman, director of early childhood education, said the district will be facing higher transportation costs because the ECFC will now have to run buses six times a day instead of four times a day Mondays through Thursdays, with two additional runs on Fridays -- one for a new morning session and one for a new afternoon session.

This is happening because the federally funded Head Start program for children from disadvantaged homes will continue to meet three hours a day Mondays through Thursdays -- just as it has in the past.

Schuckman says ECFC officials are planning to start and end the school day at the same times for all children -- Head Start as well as pre-K. But because pre-K students attending the morning session will dismiss a half-hour before the Head Start kids, an extra bus run will be needed to get the pre-K kids home before the Head Start students are taken home.

For the afternoon session, an extra bus run will be needed to bring Head Start students to school a half-hour earlier than the pre-K kids will arrive.

The extra transportation cost is a concern, Schuckman said, because the state of Illinois hasn't been fully reimbursing school districts for their busing costs. Adding more transportation requirements will only make matters worse, she said.

But that isn't the only point of concern. Schuckman said the change in scheduling also means pre-K children attending the morning session will only receive breakfast starting this fall. In the past, those children received both breakfast and lunch.

Likewise, children attending the afternoon session used to receive lunch and a mid-afternoon snack. Starting this fall, they will only get lunch.

The ECFC also will have to give up a state grant that was used to provide children with extra fruit and vegetables during the school day "because of the limited times," Schuckman said.

"These are big changes," she said. "Many of our students are very needy, so one of our concerns is making sure they get the proper nutrition and healthy food."

Schuckman said ECFC officials are "trying to look at options" on how to address the nutrition issue. She said it's possible the school may appeal to service clubs, businesses or individuals in the community to help fill the food void resulting from these changes.

For example, she noted how community groups help support "Blessings in a Backpack" programs at local elementary schools that send food home with low-income children once a week.

"Maybe that's something we need to do, too," Schuckman said. "Do we need to send home a snack every day? Right now that's still kind of on the drawing board, but we are looking at some options."

Schuckman said the inconsistent attendance schedule also means teachers at the ECFC will have fewer "collaboration" opportunities to plan together as a team.

"A lot of the collaboration between the two programs will just not be feasible," Schuckman said. "So the staff has worked hard this year -- after hours and meeting at other times -- to develop a plan for next year to really put the needs of students and parents first."