School and Church Partner to Create Community Preschool — Elgin, Nebraska


Last Updated: April 01, 2006
 

This article appeared in the April 2006 Rural Policy Matters.

Introduction

When Elgin, Nebraska decided to create a preschool four years ago, they expected some great things to happen. They've had some surprises along the way and one of them is that their preschool program has attracted the attention of several young families interested in moving to this community. Another surprise has been the number of Elgin High School students who are interested in working as Early Childhood teachers as a result of their involvement with the preschool.

Background

Elgin, Nebraska is located in Antelope County in north Central Nebraska. The school district serves 204 students in preschool through twelfth grade. Over 98% of the community's 735 residents are white; about 2% are American Indian. Not quite 14% of residents have incomes below the federal poverty level, and 65% of students are eligible for free and reduced school lunches.

Program

The Elgin Early Learning Center is a partnership between the Elgin School District and the Elgin United Methodist Church. It serves 16-20 three- and four-year-olds, including several special needs students. The program was started with a grant from the state of Nebraska in 2002. At the time, Elgin was the first small rural district in North Central Nebraska to apply.

The grant required that all applicant school districts have a community partner. Elgin United Methodist Church and Elgin School are across the road from each other. The Church had a great space for a preschool in their community room. The school had a playground, lunchroom, and library. They also had buses and bus routes throughout the district. The partners had complementary resources and a shared commitment to providing high-quality preschool in the community. They applied for and received the grant.

Preschool children ride the regular school bus in the morning. They have a half-day preschool program and eat lunch in the school cafeteria. The program runs with the regular school year, with tutoring available during the summer. The maximum charge is $40 a month per child, which is waived for children who are eligible for free and reduced lunches. The program is led by a fully certified early childhood teacher and supported by two teaching assistants.

The school district covers a portion of the church's utility bills; the church provides basic maintenance and upkeep. As true partners, the school and church make accommodations as needed. For example, when the church needs the community room on a weekday for a funeral or other event, the preschool program moves for the day into the school. It's the kind of flexible response and commitment to both parties benefiting that marks a true partnership.

Gayla Fredrickson, Superintendent, says the results of the program have been significant. Children who participate in the program have higher levels of language acquisition and demonstrate strong school-readiness skills--as measured on assessments administered each fall and spring as part of the program's High Scope curriculum. Teachers report that graduates adjust to regular kindergarten quickly. The students' progress will continue to be monitored through 11th grade as part of a Nebraska study of the effects of preschool education on student development.

Elgin High School provides an "apprenticeship hour" to interested students during which they can work in the community in a worksite placement. Several students currently use their apprenticeship hour to work in the preschool. Several Elgin graduates are studying early childhood education in college and one completed a clinical placement at the Elgin preschool.

Lessons Learned

  • Focus on the good of the community as a whole without getting fixated on specific aspects of the program.
  • You need people who really love what they are doing, who can get along with all kinds of people in the community and help people understand what the partnership is doing.

Contact Information

Name: Gayla Fredrickson
Address:   Elgin Public School
Box 399
Elgin, NE 68636

School Demographic Information

District Enrollment:  204 students
Grades Served:  Pre-K-12
Percent of Students Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunches: 65%
Percent Students who are English Language Learners: 0%
Percent of Student Population:
     American Indian/Alaskan Native: less than 2%
     Asian/Pacific Islander: 0%
     Black, not Hispanic: 0%
     Hispanic: 0%
     White, not Hispanic: 98%

Read more from the April 2006 Rural Policy Matters.



Related Categories: Rural Policy Matters

Related Tags: School-Community Partnerships