As part of a countywide push to increase access to early childhood education, Montgomery County Public Schools opened its second regional pre-kindergarten center this week.
The center, which serves 80 4-year-old students with capacity for about 20 more, is in Germantown. It accommodates students in general and special education programs.
“It’s a fully integrated program where they’ll do age-appropriate learning together, like the building blocks of literacy, and understanding the symbols on the wall actually are related to sounds, and those sounds together make words, and if you put those words together they make thoughts and ideas,” MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith said in an interview this week. “That’s unleashing the world for them.”
In March, as county leaders crafted the current year’s budget, County Executive Marc Elrich, County Council President Nancy Navarro and school system officials announced a plan to channel $7 million to expand early childhood education opportunities. Smith at the time said MCPS had budgeted about $1 million to open the Germantown center, which operates in a building that has been used to temporarily house students from schools that are undergoing major construction projects.
MCPS spokesman Derek Turner said the center will eventually move to another location.
“The goal is to have (the site) return to a holding facility in the future,” Turner said.
There are 76,000 children in the county under the age of six, 40 percent of whom live below the poverty line, which is $71,550 for a family of four, according to county estimates.
Over the past two years, the county has focused on expanding availability of full-day, pre-k slots at publicly funded programs. During that period, the number of 4-year-olds enrolled in such programs increased from 585 to 1,283, according to county data.
Another 1,900 students attend half-day public programs.
Last year, MCPS opened its first regional pre-k facility at MacDonald Knolls Elementary School in Silver Spring.
MacDonald Knolls offers full-day pre-k services to nearly 100 3- and 4-year-olds. It also offers half-day classes.
County leaders say providing more opportunities for early learning is an “economic imperative” because it helps ensure students are academically prepared when they begin kindergarten.
About 54 percent of county kindergarteners attended the first day of the 2018-19 school year ready to participate in grade-level curriculum, while 28 percent had some foundational skills needed for instruction and 18 percent had minimal skills required for kindergarten-level learning, according to the state Department of Education.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org