Lifelong Learning at PSJA ISD

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Four years ago, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District expanded their preschool program by offering Pre-K 3 classes. These classes were offered as a half-day program within the elementary schools and in partnership with local childcare centers. In 2021, 11 of these elementary schools expanded their Pre-K 3 program to full-day classes. Today, the option of school choice is available at all 25 elementary schools in the district.

“It is our goal that all students receive early childhood instruction,” said Maricela Cortez, PSJA Early Childhood Department director. “Offering parents a choice of where to send their child to preschool within the district is essential to reaching this goal. PSJA is an open enrollment district, and children can start in the Pre-K 3 program at any time during the year.”

The only requirement is that they are 3 years old by September 1 of the school year in which they plan to start.

Parents have many choices regarding their preschool-aged children’s education. One decision to make is where their child spends their day.

In addition to the elementary schools, PSJA ISD partners with 38 local childcare centers to provide Pre-K 3 and Pre-K 4 classes, as well as UTRGV Early Head Start, Hidalgo County Head Start Program, and United Migrant Opportunity Services.

PSJA provides each childcare center with state-certified bilingual teachers, giving parents the choice between English or dual language learning. Children in the Pre-K 3 or Pre-K 4 programs of the childcare centers are dual enrolled in the childcare center and PSJA ISD and are taught the same curriculum as students in an elementary school.

Students attending preschool in the elementary schools are provided with breakfast and lunch. Their school day is from 8:15 a.m. to 3:55 p.m., and transportation is available on the same buses as the elementary students. Each classroom has a maximum of 22 students — with one teacher and one assistant.

The district also offers Early Childhood Special Education for those children who have been referred and identified.

Benefits of Pre-K 3:

There are many benefits for parents to enroll their child in an extra year of preschool. For many children, especially those who stay home with a parent or relative, socializing is a life skill gained by attending preschool.

Learning to share and interact with other children is an important aspect of preschool education. Children entering Pre-K 3 with language deprivation learn new vocabulary as they sing, dance, and recite nursery rhymes with their class.

Social and emotional learning, cognitive learning, and physical learning are the academics of preschool. Teachers of young children extend a child’s learning by observing and building on their interests. Children then learn the targeted skill while they think that they are playing.

As Mr. Rogers said, “For children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

In preschool, a child is exposed to new types of play with intentional learning built in. This learning may be self-regulation, fine or gross motor skill, or learning to show empathy.

The benefits of children attending preschool programs go beyond preparing them for kindergarten. According to the Department of Education, students who attend high-quality preschools are less likely to need special education, and are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and be successful in their chosen careers.

Further, the Foundation for Child Development adds that students of high-quality preschool programs have reduced crime rates and reduced teen pregnancy rates. Skill assessments in third grade have shown that students who attended Pre-K 3 scored three to four months improvement over students who did not. Dual language learners benefited as much, or more than native speakers, from attending Pre-K 3 programs.

Joanney Uthe