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Park Forest Preschool serves at-risk children, focuses on importance of early skills

For 51 years, the three classrooms of the Park Forest Preschool have been alive with young children and their teachers learning, loving and growing together. Park Forest Preschool, a mission of the Park Forest Village United Methodist Church and supported by 10 other churches, is a tuition-free preschool for children who are 2, 3 and 4 years old whose families cannot otherwise afford an early childhood experience for their child. This continues to be a half-day program, 33 weeks per year, in which children receive two nutritious meals a day, exciting and rich curriculum developed by professionals, in an environment in which the whole family is supported. Our program is staffed at a low teacher to child ratio to meet the needs of our at-risk children and families. We believe that all children deserve a rich early childhood experience: holistic, nurturing and developmentally appropriate, to prepare them for kindergarten and for life.

“Early skills matter, and preschool can help children build these skills.” This was a key finding of a 2013 report titled “Investing in our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education,” which analyzed more than 40 years of early childhood education research. The report reaffirms what we believe: Preschool offers a host of short- and long-term benefits for children, not just in academic skills but also in health and social emotional development. Programs that rely on evidence-based, well-implemented curriculum reduce grade retention, increase graduation rates, reduce special education placements, and decrease crime and incarceration rates. We know that every dollar spent now decreases the likelihood that much more will be spent later as a result of school dropouts, crime and other poor life choices. Yet, 59 percent of eligible children in Centre County do not have access to such programs as ours.

Park Forest Preschool is unique in the deep community support it has been fortunate to have over the past half-century. What began as a faith community mission has grown to include financial support from civic organizations, United Way, individual donations and local grants. Since we receive no state or federal monies, we are deeply grateful for the support of the community as we serve the area’s youngest citizens. Please visit us this fall to see our children and teachers doing what they do best — growing, learning and nurturing each other. Learn more about Park Forest Preschool and keep up with our news through our website, www.parkforestpreschool.org, and our Facebook page or call 231-8492 to schedule a visit or volunteer.

Gail Addison Guss is Park Forest Preschool board chairwoman.
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