Your Schools: RF4C questions answeredAs the final months of the 2011-12 school year wind down, the planning work for the 2012-13 school year definitely gears up. One program where lots of efforts are now being placed is in the preparations for starting the 4-year old preschool program next September.
By: Tom Westerhaus, School District Superintendent, River Falls Journal
As the final months of the 2011-12 school year wind down, the planning work for the 2012-13 school year definitely gears up. One program where lots of efforts are now being placed is in the preparations for starting the 4-year old preschool program next September.
I will use this week’s column to help answer some of the questions we’ve heard about RF4C.
What is the vision of the preschool program? RF4C (River Falls 4 Children) is a voluntary child-centered early learning program available to all four-year olds and their families residing in the district through a collaborative, community-based partnership.
Why is the district starting this? Research on child development emphasizes the critical importance of early learning and language experiences on brain development and future success in school and life.
The school district believes that all families who are interested in quality early learning experiences for their 4-year old outside the home deserve equitable access to a high quality program.
Many excellent private and parochial preschool options currently exist within the district, but some families who may be interested can’t access these programs due to financial constraints, transportation issues, or other reasons.
How will it operate? Children will be enrolled in the School District of River Falls’ 4-year old kindergarten program but will be taught in a local community preschool/childcare location.
RF4C classes will be taught by highly qualified Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction licensed teachers in classes that run Monday through Friday from either 9 to 11:30 a.m. or 12:45 to 3:15 p.m. on a calendar similar to the school district calendar.
Some of the RF4C locations offer extended childcare options. There is no cost for the RF4C program, but parents are responsible for childcare costs beyond the 2 ½ hour preschool program.
Most child care programs have limited spots available and have a first come/first serve policy, so parents needing child care should contact sites directly as soon as possible.
Is the school becoming a day care business? No. The district is interested in ensuring universal accessibility to appropriate, child-centered, play-based curriculum to all families who may be interested. It will not replace the need for quality childcare programs throughout the district.
Who can participate? Any child who will be four years old by September 1, 2012 will be eligible to participate. Enrollment materials are available in the district office, any elementary office, all participating sites, or by downloading forms on the district website: www.rfsd.k12.wi.us.
Again, there is no cost for the RF4C program, as the district will receive revenues from the state for each child enrolled and will then compensate partner sites. Families who do not live in the School District of River Falls may participate if their resident district offers 4K and they complete an open enrollment application available at www2.dpi.state.wi.us/Opal2012/
Where will my child go to RF4C classes? The purpose of the community-based 4-year old preschool program is to partner with the existing expertise, experience, and facilities of private providers within the community.
All partner sites will utilize similar curriculum. Parents can choose a site that best fits the needs of their child depending upon transportation and space availability.
In January, eight partner sites originally agreed to enter into a contract with the school district to participate in the program. Unfortunately, two of the partners have backed out and now the following six sites are RF4C partner sites within the community that will be available for the 2012-13 school year: Abundant Life Learning Center, Little Adventures Child Care Center, The C.H.I.L.D. Center, River Falls Public Montessori, Jacob’s Ladder and The University Preschool.
Is this the same as 5-year old kindergarten? No. Four-year olds are very different developmentally from five-year olds and using a watered down kindergarten program for four-year olds is inappropriate and ineffective.
Will there be enough spots available for all interested families? Yes, even with two less partnering centers, the district will make sure that any family wanting their child in RF4C will be guaranteed a spot at one of the locations.
How will children be transported to RF4C? Many parents will be choosing to transport their own children to and from the centers. However, school bus transportation will be provided to some, but not all, of the RF4C partner sites. All children who are bussed have three options for pick-up and drop-off: at home, at a home daycare, or at a child care facility. Pick-up and drop-off locations must be consistent. Again, check the district’s website for more detailed transportation information.
What will my child learn in RF4C? Children will participate in activities that provide rich learning experiences and social-emotional development.
As an early learning program, RF4C will focus on early literacy and language but also include math, social studies, science, health, physical fitness, art, and music in a play-based format.
Young children learn by doing and exploring in a nurturing environment, so a typical day will include some teacher-directed instruction, many hands-on activities, and opportunities for child-initiated play.
Is this program intended to make money for the district? The intent of the program is to provide quality preschool programs for district residents in the same way that over 80% of the districts in Wisconsin provide for their families.
Because of the way the state funds this program in a phased-in approach over three years, our district is borrowing from its fund balance to begin the program. However, during the second and third years of the program, the fund balance will be paid back, partnering centers will be better compensated for their expenses, and the district budget for this program will be balanced or perhaps even positively affected. The intent of the board is to minimally balance the budget for RF4C and not take away from the existing K-12 programs.
What is the current status of RF4C? We already have 150 children enrolled at six different sites. Families will receive letters with site assignments later this month.
We still have plenty of room available and encourage other families to register this spring or into the summer. RF4C partner sites will be holding open houses and parent orientation opportunities this summer. Watch for more information later this spring.
As with other school district initiatives, the River Falls 4 Children program comes out of the community-built River Falls Leads: 2010-15 Strategic Plan. We are proud of the many ways that our district continues to move from good to great, and we thank you for your support and encouragement on our journey.