Greater Jasper expanding preschool program

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Fifth Street Elementary preschooler Barrett Labhart, left, paints dinosaur tracks with the help of Developmental Preschool Teacher Jordan Beach at the school on Monday. As a teacher, Beach enjoys incorporating art and movement into her lessons. "I just love that everything we get to do is through play," Beach said.


JASPER — When the doors open at Jasper Elementary this fall, it will be with the opportunity to welcome in more of the city’s youngest students.

Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools is undergoing the lengthy process of expanding its prekindergarten program in an effort to qualify for state preschool funding programs such as On My Way Pre-K and vouchers from the Child Care and Development Fund that help low-income families access quality preschool programs for their children. Right now, the corporation is in the application phase for both qualifications.

Currently, the corporation runs a developmental preschool program at Fifth Street Elementary for students who qualify through a need for an individual education plan. Superintendent Tracy Lorey said the corporation would like to expand that program and open it up to any child in the corporation who will be 4 years old on or before Aug. 1, 2020. The curriculum will continue to focus on kindergarten readiness and social-emotional learning, Lorey said.

“It should be rich in language arts and rich in creative activities,” she said.

The main focus for the corporation now is applying for and receiving a Paths to Quality accreditation. Paths to Quality is Indiana’s child care quality rating and improvement system that rates preschool programs on a scale from one to four, four being the highest. Programs that rank three or four on the scale qualify for On My Way Pre-K funding for eligible families.

Lorey said the corporation is seeking level three now with level four being the ultimate goal.

To obtain a level three rating, programs must meet several requirements, including housing the program in a school setting, using a curriculum that meets Paths to Quality standards and engaging parents. As a public school, Lorey said, Greater Jasper already has a start on many of those requirements.

Fifth Street Elementary instructional assistant Gerri Buchta helps preschooler David Dosch during developmental preschool at the school in Jasper on Monday.

“We think we should be ready for level three as the initial target,” Lorey said.

It’s too early in the application process to tell if the program will have the Paths to Quality rating by the first day of school, but regardless, Greater Jasper will open its pre-K program to all 4-year-olds. The program has about 60 spots total, in addition to the spots held for students in the developmental program.

Last week, the corporation hosted its first pre-K roundup and had about 40 families attend, and Lorey said the corporation will likely hold additional outreach events.

The cost to enroll a child in the program will be $80 per student per month, but the corporation will offer discounts for low-income families based on the income scales used for the free and reduced price lunch programs. Families who would qualify for reduced price lunch will pay $40 per month per student, and families who qualify for free lunch will be able to send students at no charge.

“We didn’t want there to be barriers where utilization is concerned,” Lorey said.

The preschool program will be half-day and will not serve lunch.

Once Greater Jasper’s program qualifies for On My Way Pre-K, it will be one of only a handful of programs in the county qualified for the vouchers. Southeast Dubois Schools operates an On My Way Pre-K program at Pine Ridge Elementary, as does Hummingbird Day Care Ministry in Holland. Southwest Dubois is working to get its pre-K program qualified for On My Way Pre-K, but does meet the requirements for students to receive vouchers through the Child Care and Development Fund. Northeast Dubois also operates a preschool program at Dubois Elementary, though it does not qualify for On My Pre-K funding.

Fifth Street Elementary preschooler Carter Young presses a handprint on the wall while passing through the hallway at the school in Jasper on Monday.

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