For the first time ever, 3- and 4-year old children in the Athena and Weston areas will be able to head off to school this fall.
The Athena-Weston School District has been awarded $222,000 from the Oregon Department of Early Learning to start a preschool program. The program will accept 18 local toddlers.
Kerri Coffman, the district’s director of early learning, said a good experience in preschool can better prepare a child for future learning.
“It’s a wonderful hands-on opportunity for young children,” Coffman said. “I really feel that it is so important that preschool be a fun, engaging experience for children because that is really their first schooling experience. When they enter the K-12 system, they have 13 years to go. If they don’t love school, that’s a long time.”
District Superintendent Laure Quaresma said the program is the first of its kind in the area.
“The communities of Athena, Weston and Adams have not had access to a free public early learning opportunity in the past,” Quaresma said. “Oregon voters and our local community have identified early learning as a priority. This Oregon Early Learning funding will support equity through the development of a high quality early program for our youngest learners. We are excited to have the leadership and experience Kerri Coffman brings us in moving this program forward for our learners.”
The preschool will be in an old kindergarten classroom at Weston Middle School. It will meet five days a week for five to six hours a day and will run on the same calendar as the rest of the school district.
The district will hire a certificated teacher as the lead teacher and a paraprofessional as an assistant.
The program will be free and available to families who earn up to 200% of the federal poverty line. This number varies by the size of a family. The current poverty rate for a family of five is $30,680. So, a local family of five could earn up to $61,360 and qualify for the program.
Coffman said a public option for preschool is important to have in the area.
“We have some private preschool opportunities in our area, but not very many,” Coffman said. “So many of our families have to travel at least 20 to 30 minutes outside of our area to obtain child care or preschool … Our new program also levels the playing field for all families who may not be able to afford preschool for their children.”