Gap year programs

Muskegon’s free preschool program for children aims to support early learning and improve literacy

MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – A pilot program to improve early childhood literacy, launched this year, will provide free preschool and child care to approximately 100 children in Muskegon County.

The privately funded 2-year preschool pilot project called Preschool for All will initially be offered at Muskegon Public Schools, Muskegon Heights Public Schools and the YMCA Goodwill Early Childhood Center, according to a press release from the program.

Students enrolled in the program will attend a curriculum-based preschool for half the day, then move on to a structured daycare program for the other half. The pilot will start with 24 students in each class, for a total of 96 students in the program.

The program was founded by local business, education and community leaders who sought to address declining literacy rates in Muskegon County.

State test data shows that only 34% of Muskegon County students have mastered the arts of the English language by the end of third grade, compared to 42% of those in the rest of Michigan.

Research has shown that third graders who do not read at grade level are among the most vulnerable to poor academic performance, including dropping out of school.

Mark White, president of Shape Corporation and one of the co-chairs of the program, said leaders in the region were alarmed by the lack of literacy when examining elementary reading scores in Muskegon.

“We saw a gap and wondered how we could help close it,” White said in a prepared statement.

White, along with Mercy Health President Gary Allore and Muskegon Public Schools Superintendent Matthew Cortez began brainstorming ideas that could address the county’s declining literacy rates.

Cortez said the issue “struck a chord” with area leaders, who immediately began to offer help.

“Local business leaders knew that (the literacy deficit) is a problem, and it’s not just schools’ concern,” he said. “It is a fundamental right of people in our society to be literate in order to be a citizen of this country. Our companies have really looked into that.

The program’s founding committee raised more than $ 400,000 to fund the 2-year pilot program with help from the local businesses that participated, Cortez said.

The list of programs that have contributed to the program so far includes Premier Foods / Hazekamp Meats, Howmet Aerospace Foundation, Webb Chemical, Hines Corporation, Community Foundation for Muskegon County, Mart Dock / Sand Products Corporation, Supreme Machined Products, United Way of the Lakeshore, Nichols, AvaSure, JSJ Corporation, Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, Midge Verplank Community Impact Foundation and ADAC Automotive.

Cortez said the preschool program will play a huge role in improving the educational success of students later in life.

Children who receive a high-quality preschool experience exhibit significant positive developmental differences compared to children from the same backgrounds who did not complete a high-quality preschool program, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

“It’s an extra year of education for our kids,” Cortez said. “From a personal perspective, I think this program has the potential to have a more positive impact on the literacy of our younger learners than I have ever seen in my entire career.

Cortez said the program is intended to address the lack of preschool programs available to families who are not eligible for Head Start – a federally funded program that is only open to low-income families – but does not. cannot afford private preschool services.

“The program is designed to meet a child where they are, no matter who they are, or how much money their family has, or what their socioeconomic status is,” he said.

The goal is that eventually every 4-year-old child in Muskegon County has access to early childhood education, Cortez said.

“The preschool experience is something that all students should be offered, regardless of their income or where they live,” Allore said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to measuring the results and expanding to even more students in the future.”

More on MLive:

Childcare and early childhood education programs set to expand in Muskegon County with additional funding

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Erica Gill

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