by Elisa Hawkes
Coastal Journal staff
BATH — Region School Unit 1 (RSU 1) has been offered a $25,000 matching funds grant for its Pre-Kindergarten program if sufficient funds can be raised by August 1. The region has raised $10,000 to date, but is still $15,000 short of the challenge goal with one month to go. If the total amount is not pledged by the deadline, none of the $25,000 will be donated to the RSU.
Program Coordinator Rosalie Perkins said one program, Children Having Opportunities in Collaborative Early Settings (CHOICES), currently has spaces for 71 four-year-olds. Due to a recent donation, the total will rise to 74 for the coming year. The matching grant will add 10 spaces to the program, bringing the total to 84.
Perkins said there are approximately 150 children in RSU 1 eligible for the Pre-K program, although only 73 applied for the 71 slots last year. Admittance to the CHOICES program is determined by a lottery.
The goal, according to Perkins, is to someday be able to offer public Pre-K education to every four-year-old in RSU 1. As stated in the CHOICES literature, “Our mission is to provide all families with 4-year-old children living in the towns served by RSU1 access to quality, developmentally appropriate preschool programs.”
RSU 1 includes the towns of Bath, West Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg, and Woolwich. CHOICES is offered at the Dike-Newell School in Bath, and partners with the Bath Area Family YMCA, Family Focus of Bath, the Children’s Schoolhouse, and next year at Woolwich Central School.
Perkins said Pre-K learning is exceedingly beneficial to students, especially as they advance through the school system. She said children who have attended pre-K programs generally exhibit excellent learning skills and achievement in higher grades.
Perkins said, “Eighty-five percent of a child’s brain structures are in place by three years of age. What an opportunity for learning!”
She went on to stress the extent to which pre-K education affects a child’s love of learning and discovery, self-regulation, attention span, ability to work in a group, independent thinking skills, conversational skills, and many other skills. According to Perkins, a great deal of learning takes place prior to Kindergarten, from birth on. The potential for learning at this stage of development is astonishing, she said. CHOICES guides children to learn in the best way possible for them, personally.
Perkins said fundraising efforts for the matching grant are through the ECAC, the Early Childhood Advisory Council, a group of community Pre-K providers, school personnel, parents, and community members. The ECAC is also sponsoring a booth at the summer concerts at the Patten Free Library on Tuesday and Friday evenings, to increase awareness of CHOICES’ programs and mission.
The Jessie B. Cox Charitable Trust, based in Boston, offered the grant, stipulating that CHOICES must match the $25,000. The ECAC is asking for various categories of donations. On July 1, ECAC is beginning a 30/30 Challenge. They are asking individuals and families to donate $30. This is the cost of one day of Pre-K education for one child. The Business Match is a donation of $360, which is the cost of one child in the program for one month. ECAC is asking businesses to match the donation of $360 made by Burgess Computer in Bath. ECAC is asking for Corporate and philanthropic donations to match the Davenport Trust donation of $10,000. This amount funds three children for one year. ECAC is asking for three donations of $3,060 each to match the $10,000 already collected.
Perkins said, “I want to stress how very crucial learning is in these early years. As we all know, it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to get a program off the ground.
“Our program is unique in that we engage community early childhood providers in an intimate way. This is not just public elementary schools, but a whole community program. We want to maintain good communication with preschool providers because they take care of our infants and toddlers. They are the experts, and we need them. They have been with the children since birth, and those are crucial years. We need to collaborate and talk with them.”