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Lots still undecided about pre-K during coming school year

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — While Gov. Roy Cooper has announced a mixed model for schools reopening in a month, exact guidelines for the state’s pre-K program remain unclear. Things could end up looking different in each county.

Smart Start Rowan manages all the N.C. Pre-K seats in the county, including those within Rowan-Salisbury Schools. Director of Programs Laura Villegas said said the agency is working out the details for the program.

Smart Start would generally follow the RSS schedule, but the new schedule — with students split into two attendance groups — could complicate things. Villegas said she simply does not know what schedule the organization will use at this point. She said the state is still developing guidelines for N.C. Pre-K and will be hosting webinars next week to talk about how the program will look for the coming year.

The state already has guidelines for facilities that provide child care services such as Partners in Learning and Smart Start, which outlines topics like maintaining small cohorts, social distancing and sanitation.

Partners in Learning Executive Director Norma Honeycutt said there could be some odd situations if N.C. pre-K follows the school’s schedule. A child enrolled in N.C. pre-K who is placed at Partners in Learning and enrolled in child care there could, for example, attend preschool on Monday and Tuesday, but then return to the facility Wednesday through Friday for child care.

Honeycutt said there could be challenges for parents who are not able to get their children enrolled in child care for the three days they may not be in school. She also questioned how effective virtual learning would be for young children. Honeycutt said this could put 4-year-olds at a disadvantage.

“Early learning is about hands on,” Honeycutt said. “It’s about hands-on learning, and learning through play and engagement. You can’t do that virtually. So, you do the best you can. But at home where children don’t have books or don’t have Legos, don’t have toys, how are they going to engage in learning with materials they don’t have?”

Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency is in charge of Head Start and Early Head Start programs in the county. Those are federally-funded early education programs and have more flexibility than the state program. SRCAA has some N.C. Pre-K classrooms as well. The agency was already planning on offering services regardless of Cooper’s decision.

SRCAA Director of Head Start Tabitha McAllister said it is too early for the organization to outline its plans. SRCAA, like Smart Start and Partners in Learning, is a multi-service agency that provides meals and services for children with disabilities and child care among others.

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