SCS board approves YMCA partnership for preschool

By: 
Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

Y Board Vice President Jason Wade speaks, along with Youth First Director Chelsey Miller, Y Preschool Director Robin Deaton and Y CEO Kristy Purlee, to the Salem Schools Board about offering preschool at Bradie Shrum Elementary through the YMCA.

The Salem Community Schools board approved a recommendation that would see the school partner with the YMCA to offer preschool at Bradie Shrum during their meeting on Monday, April 9.

“Studies continue to show that a student’s success in school is directly related to their performance in kindergarten and we know that students who are enrolled in a high quality preschool program are more successful in kindergarten than their peers who are not,” Superintendent Lynn Reed wrote in a letter to the board. “This partnership between the YMCA and BSE will strengthen the education of students entering BSE as kindergarteners.”
West Washington began hosting a YMCA preschool for students in their district last year, making this their second year for preschool.

“It is the belief of the West Washington staff and school board that this partnership has been a great advantage since the start of the program,” wrote West Washington Superintendent Keith Nance in a letter of support for the partnership. “The kindergarten students that attend the YMCA/WWSC PreK are well-prepared to start school. We observed that students attending the YMCA/WWSC PreK were not only more prepared for kindergarten, but they were also more prepared than their peers that attended other preschools.”

Purlee called a potential partnership with Salem Schools a “win-win.”

“It’s mutually beneficial,” she says. “We’ll be able to serve more families and prepare more kids. There’s a considerable gap in children who went to preschool and those who didn’t.”

During the Monday board meeting Y Board Vice President Jason Wade discussed the importance of students keeping on top of learning in the early elementary years.

“Most of you know me as a State Farm agent, but in my previous career, I was a principal and kindergarten, first and second grade teacher,” said Wade. “What we’re going to talk about tonight is very close to my heart and I’m very passionate about early childhood and the opportunities we have for our young children in our community and specifically Salem Community Schools … If you look at the statistical data, and look at children coming into school, if a child is behind their peers one to two years going into school, the data shows if they don’t catch up by third grade, they will never catch up. The odds of that child graduating from high school is very, very slim.”

Following the success of the preschool program at West Washington, Purlee proposed offering a full-day program at Salem as well, which would provide access to the school nurse, library, gym and playground, specials, transportation and school lunch.

“We know our facility is limited,” said Purlee. “If we were going to offer it full-day, high quality, licensed program, we would have to do it somewhere else in order to serve the same number of kids. By collaborating, we could give students everything they need and more.”

There is currently only one state-recognized, licensed High Quality-certified preschool program in the county — Head Start — and there are only 34 slots open there. In a letter the Y will presented to the Salem board Monday evening, data is listed that 68 percent of 4- and 5-year-olds in Washington County are in need of quality care and that the county only offers high quality programming to 3 percent of children with both parents working. Indiana as a whole only serves 15 percent of that population.

The YMCA preschool serves 90 to 100 students each year, but isn’t licensed and therefore can’t receive state and federal funding to make the program affordable for all. “By introducing licensing and quality guidelines, we hope to better prepare our students for kindergarten,” the letter reads.

“In order for us to become licensed, we need more space,” said Purlee. “We have a staff willing to put in the work and the Y board fully supports putting our resources into early learning endeavers. We’re just looking to increase opportunities for low-income families to have access to early childhood education.”

The classes for 4- and 5-year-olds would move to Bradie Shrum and the 2- and 3-year-old classes currently held at the Y would stay there. The preschool at the school would be for rising kindergarteners who would be entering kindergarten the following year. Purlee suggested this could offer a more seamless transition into Bradie Shrum for students.

The YMCA requested the use of three classrooms at Bradie Shrum, two for 5-day-a-week, full day classes and another for a half-day, 3-day-a-week program. Each class would have 24 students and the Y hopes to offer this at no- or low-cost to families in need through the YMCA donations and support.

“We want to ensure students make a successful transition into school and enjoy a strong achievement,” said Purlee.

“We hope to serve kids who aren’t currently receiving day care or preschool,” said Bradie Shrum Principal Brent Minton. “Parents can’t afford to work because they can’t afford the cost of child care or preschool. We hope to reach those kids. We have students who come in well behind their peers because they’re not in a preschool program. We hope to bring those students up to par to their peers. I don’t have the data in front of me, but it could be 20 percent of students enter well behind.”

So how much would it cost the school? Ideally, Purlee said Monday evening, nothing. It will essentially be the Y’s program that’s operating at Bradie Shrum.

“You already have classrooms, some equipment — we’d bring most of it, but there’s some things here we might be able to use,” said Purlee. “There’s transportation — you already have buses that go to or past some of these households we hope to serve already. There’s some personnel cost like use of the school nurse, any staff for specialties like the library, or cooks, who would bring nutritious lunches to students in their classroom.”

With transportation, Purlee said West Washington installed three-point harnesses for preschoolers due to a new law passed requiring it. Purlee said the Y would write grants, raise funds and do whatever necessary to make that happen for Salem.

Minton added that some kindergarteners who attend Bradie Shrum are already riding the school buses.

Wade said, for the past three years, he’s seen students who have struggled as he volunteered to read to students.

“We have children coming to Bradie Shrum who sleep on a floor, no naptime, the same clothes over and over, no access to any books, no access to a fruit or a vegetable or an educational environment,” he said. “To me, as a taxpayer and a citizen and parent, that’s unacceptable to us. Let’s go get those kids, bring them here and let’s help them.”

The board approved the partnership unanimously.

Following the meeting and announcement that the school had approved the partnership, a member of the public questioned if the preschool would be secular, given that it was being hosted in a public elementary school. Purlee later responded, "The Y will run separate from the school. We will continue to instill Christian values in our teaching."

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