STARKE — The Starke County Community Foundation (SCCF), a fund affiliate of the Northern Indiana Community Foundation (NICF), is embarking on an exciting and innovative local project. In partnership with local preschools, schools, and other organizations, the SCCF is establishing a preschool scholarship program for the children of Starke County.
The goal of the program is to make one year of preschool education affordable to every child in Starke County. Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, need-based scholarships will be available to families of four-year-old children. Work on the project, including a feasibility study, began in 2011.
“Most people don’t understand how important preschool is,” says Sarah Origer, SCCF Director of Development. “The expectations of what a child entering kindergarten should know have risen dramatically in recent years, and local children who arrive for kindergarten unprepared often have difficulty catching up to their peers.”
Eighty-five percent of a child’s brain growth happens by the age of five, and children who attend preschool are more likely to read at grade level, graduate from high school, and continue on to secondary education. During the 2011-2012 school year, approximately 36 percent of Starke County kindergarteners had not attended preschool.
Three reasons for lack of attendance are commonly cited: Parents’ lack of understanding regarding the importance of preschool, a lack of transportation, and a lack of financial resources.
“We hope to encourage the citizens of Starke County to partner with us to make this program successful by illustrating how both children and the community benefit from investing in high-quality preschool education,” says Origer.
Rigorous studies have shown that for every dollar invested in early childhood education programs for low-income children, between $4 and $9 is returned to the community.
These financial returns come in the form of reduced special education costs, less grade repetition in schools, better job preparedness and a greater ability to meet future labor force demands, higher incomes due to higher educational attainment, fewer welfare payments, and lower criminal casualties and prison costs.
“It’s clear that investing in early childhood education leads to long-term community benefits that would be unwise to ignore,” says NICF Executive Director Jay Albright. Similar NICF preschool scholarship programs are underway in Fulton and Miami Counties.
For more information about the scholarship program or to contribute, contact Sarah Origer at 574-772-3665.
Parents of 4-year olds wishing to apply to the scholarship program should also contact Origer for a list of participating preschools.