While the state still works to dole out additional funding for pre-kindergarten, local education officials are looking for ways to reach children before they even enter a classroom.

Prosper Waco officials, including administrators from Waco Independent School District, Talitha Koum and McLennan Community College, met this week to discuss ways to help parents and the community equip children for kindergarten from as early as birth.

“There are quite a few kids who don’t have access to pre-K at all or they’re not enrolled,” said Matthew Polk, executive director of Prosper Waco. “Or (they) don’t have access to full-day pre-K and then knowing that all kids are developing from ages 0 to 3 or 4 before the districts ever get them — that’s a critical time in terms of development both academically and socially and emotionally.”

The working group will meet multiple times through the summer to formalize ideas on how to increase the number of children ready for kindergarten by 50 percent of the current baseline by 2020, Polk said. Prosper Waco plans to use compiled data from local early-childhood education organizations to establish the current baseline, which hasn’t been set yet.

There are also working groups defining methods to meet the goals set for health and financial security.

The initiative comes after the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research report recommended an increase in parental resources that will teach how to equip children for preschool, saying the effort and money put into children younger than age 5 benefits not only the individual, but the community at large.

“In fact, for each dollar spent before age 5, there is a $3 to $17 rate of return that is realized through increased success in high school, higher earning employment opportunities, and a decreased likelihood of incarceration, teen pregnancy and use of public assistance funds,” the report states.

Representatives from nine organizations attended the meeting, where conversation centered primarily on how to reach parents on how to teach their children social and emotional skills to succeed when with a group of other students.

“How do we help the parents and families understand the important of that developmental stage? How do we provide them resources of proper development and ways they can help their children develop? And how do we engage them in actively doing that?” Polk said.

Waco ISD’s Early Childhood Coordinator Mary Konrad said pre-kindergarten teachers’ biggest hurdles to teaching are children who aren’t socially ready to engage in a group. They haven’t been taught the emotional restraint or self-control to focus long enough to learn anything, she said.

Attendees suggested ideas such as parent engagement meetings where families are taught how to connect with their children and teach them the self-restraint needed to be in a classroom.

The group also presented the idea of writing a brief manual outlining the academic, social and emotional skills students will need to attend kindergarten successfully.

Polk said he was pleased with the turnout for the meeting and expects solid, workable solutions to come from the well-qualified professionals.

“Their job is to think about, ‘What are the strategies for achieving these goals?,’ ” Polk said. “So, if the goal is making more students kindergarten ready, how do we make that happen? And that’s a very broad question. There are lots of ways we could attack that.”

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