New Mexico Expands Early Pre-K Program with New Funding

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Leaders in the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) have said that $3.5 million in pre-K funds that were unused would be routed into the Early Pre-K program, and the influx would bring the total investment in the year-old effort to over $10.5 million.

The pilot program started last summer and affords early childhood education possibilities to three-year-olds who are not eligible for the state’s Pre-K program.

Writing for the Las Cruces Sun-News, Damien Willis says the increased funding will allow nearly 1,000 youngsters in child-care centers in approximately one-half of New Mexico’s counties to access the early pre-K opportunity.

“In New Mexico, we’re committed to giving our kids a head start in their education because no matter their background, every child can learn,” Gov. Susana Martinez said in a news release Friday. “Expanding our investment in this important program helps us ensure that more of our kids start school prepared to learn.”

The National Institute for Early Education Research announced in May that New Mexico had risen ten spots in ranking for funding early childhood education. The improvement made the state 18th in the country in this area.

Assistant Director of Las Cruces-based Ngage New Mexico David Greenberg said he was “appreciative and excited” about the work being done around early childhood education. But, he adds, this is only one step of many which need to be taken toward connecting with first-time parents over the entire state. He continues by pointing out that New Mexico preschool teachers make half of what elementary school teachers make in the state.

“If we want to improve, we need to invest in that as well,” Greenberg said.

CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson noted that the state had more than doubled the number of 3-year-olds who attend the new program. She said that the Kids Count Data Book wants to know what percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in pre-K. They want this data because it is an accurate measure to assess the wellbeing of children, reports Rick Nathanson of the Albuquerque Journal.

The new monies will make possible the funding of 29 child care centers in 10 counties to serve 534 more kids. The additional space would increase the number of 3-year-olds in early pre-K to 1,000.

The Martinez administration and Jacobson believe that focusing on kids in their initial years sets them up for success in the future.

New Mexico’s Early Pre-K pilot program provides, on a voluntary basis, education for 3-year-olds who are not old enough for New Mexico Pre-K.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, says not much research has been done on teaching 3-year-olds in pre-K. They say it is unusual that more study has not been done, since there is such a vast difference in the developmental stages of 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds.

The learning stages include self-regulation, vocabulary, motor skills, and attention span. Often the two age-groups are grouped together in one classroom, but experts say curriculum for the two age groups is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Educators need to remember that any classroom setting has to be developed to also address the needs of 3-year-olds.

NIEER researcher Alexandra Figueras is a veteran pre-K teacher in New Jersey’s Abbott districts. She observed an interesting interaction between 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in dual language and mixed-age classrooms.

Older children helped the younger students with things like zipping their coats or tying their shoes, while the younger children sometimes helped the older kids with translations if they were struggling with communication.