A great start: ECEC earns competitive grant to continue free preschool education

Five children huddled around a table at University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC), stretching and rolling their homemade purple putty.

They don’t know it now, but their time spent playing with putty may contribute to success in the classroom later.

The children are part of a group who receive free tuition to attend the ECEC as part of the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP). Last month, the ECEC learned it earned another GSRP competitive grant from the Michigan Department of Education to continue to provide free preschool education to children who have factors that place them at risk for achieving school success.

“Early childhood development lasts a lifetime. Teaching that builds on children’s innate problem-solving inclinations will preserve and encourage a disposition that values problem solving and thinking skills,” said Seong Hong, ECEC director. “All families should have access to quality preschool programs.”

The grant, worth $81,600, will pay tuition for 24 children to attend the ECEC for four sessions per week for 32 weeks. The program also encourages family involvement with teachers conducting two home visits and parents attending two parent-teacher conferences per term.

Eligibility is based on a number of educational risk factors including low family income, environmental risks and parents with low educational attainment.

The ECEC has received a GSRP competitive grant since 2004, when the program covered tuition for eight students. Staff members hope to increase the number of students enrolled through the GSRP to more than 60 in the 2013-14 school year.

“Our goal is to help children become thinkers. We want them to be curious about the world, to ask questions,” Hong said. “The substantial body of research demonstrates that quality childhood experiences are directly related to healthy brain development, foundational skills and complex cognitive activiteies.”

Hong and Debbie Jones, ECEC site director, are encouraged by GSRP results. They point to Michigan Department of Education program evaluations that show kindergarten teachers rate GSRP graduates as more advanced in imagination and creativity, demonstrating initiative, retaining learning and completing assignments.

The benefits of the program extended into middle and high school, with a higher percentage of GSRP students graduating on time from high school than non-GSRP participants.

Edward Silver, dean, School of Education, congratulated the ECEC staff on the grant. “This award has allowed us to support the families and children who are in need,” he said. “Congratulations to the faculty and staff of the ECEC who continue to provide the region with a high-quality early learning program that supports children’s growth and gets them off to a great start.”

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