The Children’s Council of Watauga County has announced that there are still spaces available for free pre-kindergarten classes at Cove Creek School and Valle Crucis School. The classes are offered as part of the NC Pre-Kindergarten (NC Pre-K) program, which provides high quality early childhood education for four year olds from eligible families.
Children in NC Pre-K attend classes of 18 or fewer children led by a professional teacher and receive a wide range of child development and early education services. In Watauga County, the program operates for the same hours and on the same calendar as the K-8 schools where it is based.
Applications for the program are available from The Children’s Council of Watauga County (828 262-5424, 225 Birch St. #3 in Boone) and on the Watauga County Schools website. On the WCS website, the application is on the forms page, which is available under the For Parents and Students heading on the homepage.
Children in NC Pre-K must be four-years old on or before August 31st and must also meet additional state eligibility standards. The family’s gross income must be at or below 75% of the state median, with adjustments for family size; or the child must have specific risk factors such as developmental disabilities, limited English proficiency, educational need, or a chronic health condition; or the child must be from specific types of military families.
The income limits increase with each additional member of a family. For example, a child from a two person family is eligible if their gross income does not exceed $34,090, and a child from a family of five can be eligible with a gross family income of up to $58,154.
There are also pre-kindergarten classrooms at Green Valley, Hardin Park, and Parkway School. Parents interested in enrolling a child at one of these sites can submit an application and will be placed on a waiting list in case an opening occurs during the current school year.
For questions and more information, please contact Hunter Varipapa, the local NC Pre-Kindergarten Coordinator, at (828) 262-5424.
Pre-K Changes Lives: Teacher and Parent Perspectives
By Hunter Varipapa
Over ten years ago, I began my venture as a teacher in the Watauga County Schools’ Pre-Kindergarten Program. Each day my goal was to teach the children how to be ready to enter into kindergarten. I read stories to children who had never held a book. Each day my goal was to make children eager to learn. We counted rocks, measured sticks, and experimented with water, sand and dirt. The children used art materials to create tigers, princesses, robots, fall foliage or other things that interested them. My curriculum followed the children’s desires and each morning they entered my classroom full of anticipation as to what the day would hold.
Each day my goal was to nurture the children and create a caring, kind and empathetic community. We ate breakfast, lunch and snack together and learned about each other’s lives through meaningful conversations. Each year, my classroom was filled with children, some with developmental delays and some who were typically developing. Some of the children I taught had autism, cerebral palsy, speech delays or other developmental delays. Every day we all learned from each other. My assistant and I were not the only teachers in the classroom. The children taught each other how to put on their mittens, climb ladders, wait their turn for the slide, how to determine which block building was taller, and how to be part of a community.
Two years ago, I began working for The Children’s Council of Watauga County and became the NC Pre-Kindergarten Coordinator. I now help support the pre-kindergarten program through coordinating and monitoring all of the NC Pre-Kindergarten funded classrooms. I oversee the application process, the individual sites, go to committee meetings, coordinate developmental screenings, complete contractor reporting requirements and support the overall quality of the program. Through this position I get to see caring classroom communities, teachers, administrators and families. However, I do not get to have the same connections I used to have with the children and families each day. The children used to become my best friends and their families became my extended family. This year, when asked to write an article about the NC Pre-Kindergarten program, I asked the teachers to ask families if they could share their success stories with me.
I received a story from a mother whose child attends one of our NC Pre-Kindergarten classrooms. I was touched by her words, her story and the successes her child has achieved this year by being part of the NC Pre-Kindergarten program.
Here is her story:
When my child was first accepted into the pre-k program I was very excited yet nervous for him. This was a huge step for a little boy that had been through tremendous struggles in his first 5 years of life. He was diagnosed at 3.5 months old with Tuberous Sclerosis, a disease that causes tumors to grow on or in any organ in your body. He has tumors in his brain, eyes and kidneys. He also has problems in his spine, bowels and feeding issues. He has had seizures almost every day of his life due to the tumors in his brain. We have tried over 20 different seizure medications, brain surgery removing the right side temporal and frontal lobes, and a special diet to get his seizures under control. He has also been in a medical induced coma, had bowel resection surgery, his appendix removed, and a feeding tube placed. He is non-verbal, but is working on communication with an augmentative communication device. He has global developmental delays.
Feeding has been a major issue in his life. At the beginning of the school year, he was only able to eat pureed foods, was not able to feed himself, and still could not drink anything from a cup. We knew that the pre-k eats meals together and we wanted him to be able to experience this with his classmates. He has now started to feed himself with a spoon with some assistance and he can drink from a cup! His classmates have seen him change so much at meal times. The first time he fed himself with the spoon his classmates cheered! What a special moment for him. Before Thanksgiving break, with the help of his nurse holding the cup he drank a whole cup of juice during lunch with his peers watching and being so excited for his achievement. Now, he is able to hold the cup by himself and drink. He has learned to throw away his lunch trash away. I truly believe seeing his peers perform these task daily has made an impact on his ability to do the same.
Before Pre K it was hard for him to look at and pay attention to other children. The children in his classroom really love and care for him and want him to participate. They have encouraged him all year to play with them. A lot of times he ignores other people but these children have not given up on getting him to participate in activities with them.
We knew circle time could be a struggle. It has always been hard for him to sit still and focus. He is an on-the -go kind of boy, times 10! He used to struggle to be in a circle time for more than 5 minutes. Now he is able to sit in circle time all by himself some days! I came to pick him up one day and saw him sitting all by himself in the group and actually participating! The song on the Smartboard said to wiggle and he moved his legs!!
The list could go on and on. He has started watching his peers, playing ball with some of his peers, he is learning his colors, trying to learn how to color and he can spell his name. He can find his spot on the rug for circle time, walk in a line, go to the sink to wash his hands, put his own folder in the box where it is to go each day. These are huge milestones for my child.
I really feel like Pre-K is playing a huge role in helping him get ready for kindergarten. Pre-K has been a huge factor in the growth in his development.
My child does not talk, but his actions say a lot. When we arrive at school each morning, he gets so happy in his car seat! He makes a few of his happy noises and kicks his legs. I have to say his teachers in the Pre K room are so amazing, kind and patient. He has an amazing team of therapists and nurses that contribute greatly to his successes. And as I mentioned before, his peers have made such an impact on his life. They have such a love for our precious little boy and take the time to engage with him every single day. When I pick him up several of them want to tell me about his day or something he has accomplished that day. I absolutely cannot wait to see what the last half of the year has in store for him!
This is just one of the success stories that happen in our pre-kindergarten classrooms. I am grateful to the teachers, families, therapists and administrators that make these successes possible. All of the pre-kindergarten classrooms are inclusive to children who have delays and disabilities. Studies show that children with diverse abilities and children who are typically developing benefit in multiple ways from being involved in inclusive early childhood education settings. Some of the benefits for children who are typically developing include improved academic outcomes and increased appreciation and acceptance of individual diversity and differences. Some of the benefits of inclusion for children with delays or disabilities include having peer role models for academic, social and behavior skills, and increased achievement in meeting the goals of their Individual Education Plans, and higher expectations of success. Studies have also shown that children with and without disabilities that are involved in inclusive early childhood education classrooms gain meaningful friendships.
If you would like your child to be part of this program and gain all the benefits it can provide, I encourage you to apply. Every child that is eligible and that we have the space to serve will be welcomed, loved, and supported to become all that he or she can be.
For questions and more information about the Pre-K program, please contact Hunter Varipapa, the local NC Pre-Kindergarten Coordinator, at (828) 262-5424.
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