Program gets preschoolers ‘On My Way’

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Pine Ridge Elementary preschoolers Anna Schnell and Adele Huff dance alongside classmates during an activity to "get the wiggles out" in preschool teacher Lacey Van Winkle's classroom at the school in Kyana on Monday.


BIRDSEYE — Preschool is now more accessible for low-income Indiana families.

In the 2019 legislative session, Indiana lawmakers expanded the state’s On My Way Pre-K program, which is administered through the Indiana Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning, to all 92 Indiana counties.

On My Way Pre-K is Indiana’s state-funded prekindergarten program for low-income children that awards grants to low-income families to help cover the costs of attending preschool.

In addition to tuition grants to low-income families, the state also awarded capacity-building grants to preschools in counties now eligible for the program to ensure the programs meet state curriculum standards for On My Way Pre-K funding.

Pine Ridge Elementary in the Southeast Dubois County School Corporation received one of the grants.

Pine Ridge will use the roughly $5,838 received to help offset the cost of a preschool expansion Southeast Dubois Schools already had underway at the district’s rural elementary school, which primarily serves several small communities in the corporation’s northeast.

For the expansion, the school corporation covered the cost of renovating a classroom to create a third preschool classroom — the project wrapped up in February — and the grant will help purchase education resources for the program.

Pine Ridge Elementary librarian Darlene Sitzman reads a book aloud to a preschool class during library time at the school in Kyana on Monday.

Currently, Pine Ridge has 29 preschool students split among three classrooms, Principal Ryan Haas said. The school would like to be able to enroll additional preschool students in the coming years.

“What we have here in the Pine Ridge area is that we’re limited on the number of students that we can receive and serve,” Haas said.

The capacity-building grants are not only about adding more seats to preschool programs around the state. They’re also about making sure the programs are high quality. Recipients must earmark the funds for expenditures geared toward reaching a level three or four rating according to the state’s Paths To Quality preschool standards, according to a press release from the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, which is overseeing the grants. Level three is also the point where a preschool program becomes eligible to enroll students who receive the On My Way Pre-K tuition grant. Pine Ridge’s program is a level three.

“All the hard work has paid off to provide high-quality preschool for our area,” Haas said.

Pine Ridge plans to use its grant funds to purchase equipment for the play learning centers in the classrooms and other academic materials.

Pine Ridge Elementary preschoolers Taylynn Rembe, left, and Hadlie Reyling-Schwartz read books during library time at the school in Kyana on Monday.

The IFSSA also awarded a capacity-building grant to HUMmingbird Daycare Ministry in Holland.

The goal behind both the capacity-building grants for preschool providers like Pine Ridge and the On My Way Pre-K grants for families is to offer high-quality, early-learning opportunities to Hoosier students.

“Our research tells us that On My Way Pre-K children make higher gains than their peers in important aspects of school readiness such as language comprehension, early literacy, executive functioning and a reduction in behavior problems in the classroom,” Nicole Norvell, director of the Indiana Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning, said in a press release.

The Indiana General Assembly established the On My Way Pre-K grant as a pilot program in 2014 with five participating counties. The pilot program was expanded to 20 counties in 2017 to help more low-income families afford early childhood education.

This is the first year On My Way Pre-K grants are available to students in all 92 Indiana counties. So far, no Dubois County families have registered for the program, said IFSSA Deputy Director of Communications and Media Marni Lemons.

To qualify for On My Way Pre-K, families must make below 127% of the federal poverty level, the child must be 4 years old on or before Aug. 1 of the year they will enroll in preschool and the child’s parents or guardians must be working, going to school or attending job training.

To apply for On My Way Pre-K grants, parents can click here.

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