During the first five years of life, our brains grow and develop faster than at any other time, which is why it’s essential to provide young children with safe, nurturing environments that promote healthy physical, social/emotional, and cognitive development. One of the ways we do this at the Mendocino County Office of Education (MCOE) is through our State Preschool Consortium.
MCOE oversees 16 preschools spread among 10 school districts countywide. We provide well-planned, developmentally appropriate curriculum to income-eligible preschoolers three hours a day, five days a week. To meet the income requirement, a family of four can earn up to $6,383 per month (or $76,596 per year), which leaves the door wide open for most families in our county.
Program Director Kristin Hills has been in early childhood education for more than ten years; she was the site director at Nokomis before she moved to MCOE to become our program director. However, she began her journey with the State Preschool program years ago when her three children attended State Preschool. She started by volunteering in the classroom and eventually earned the education and experience to run the whole program. She jokes, “My kids graduated from preschool, but I’m still here.”
In her capacity as administrator and mentor, she helps site directors stay up-to-date on program regulations and best practices, tracks attendance, allocates county resources, and works with site directors to complete the rigorous data collection and reporting required by the state to demonstrate the quality and safety of each school.
She said, “The reporting is extensive. We observe each student to assess 43 unique measures during their first 60 days with us, which allows us to create a Desired Results Development Profile. We also invite parents to share feedback via anonymous surveys and parent-teacher conferences. Six months later, we do it all again so we can measure progress. And this is only one of the many assessments we do.”
In addition to providing classroom education, State Preschools work with families to connect them with any resources they may be lacking (e.g., information about nutrition, housing resources, referral to a dentist), and if children have special needs, those are often identified early. Kristin said, “We know a lot about education, but parents are the experts on their kids. We build rapport with parents, so we can work with them to support their children.”
Sometimes parents or others observe our students at play and wonder when they’ll begin to learn their numbers and letters. The truth is, play is an essential part of academic development. Our teachers know that by helping children create imaginary situations, providing props and expanding possible play roles, they are helping children develop abstract thought. Once representational abilities have been developed through play, a child is able to use these abilities to develop reading and writing skills.
Research offers clear evidence that the type of play we encourage in our preschools helps students develop problem-solving skills, increase vocabulary, mature socially and emotionally, and build literacy, math and cognitive skills.
When students do not attend preschool, they sometimes lack these skills. A good preschool education has a long list of benefits. A research brief published by Stanford University in September 2018, Early Childhood Education in California, points out that “children who attend high-quality preschools are less likely to be retained in a grade or placed in a special education setting. They are also less likely to become involved in crime and more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, and achieve higher earnings.”
Of course, none of this learning would be possible without our well-trained and experienced staff. We are incredibly fortunate to have such dedicated teachers at our schools. Right outside my office here at MCOE in Ukiah, the Talmage Preschool teacher, Pam Chiriboga, has 35 years of experience—she’s truly amazing.
State preschools are free of cost to participating families, so although most of the spots are full, it’s a good idea to put your child’s name on our waiting list if you’re looking for a preschool where your child can thrive. Contact Kristin at 707-467-5168 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.