In photos: Children and parents get a head start at SCS pre-K fair

Xadion Woods's daughter, Taylor, admires with trepidation as her peers feed a caravan of baby goats. She motions to her father, and he stoops down with a piece of bread. As Taylor holds her hand over her father's, the hungry baby goat feasts on the snack. Taylor, 5, pushes her father away as she takes the reigns as master goat feeder. “I got it,” she proclaims.

“She’s so adventurous. She likes trying new things,” said Woods about his daughter. “That’s why I need to get her in school.” 

Woods brought his daughter to the Shelby County Schools Pre-K and Kindergarten Kickoff Fair on Saturday, May 5 with the hopes of registering her for a kindergarten program.

“She didn’t go to pre-K, but her mom and I noticed how quickly she picks up things, so we’re trying early to get her in school,” said Woods.

Xadion Woods brings his daughter, Taylor, to the Pre-K and Kindergarten Kickoff at the Board of Education on Saturday, May 5th. Woods is attempting to enroll his daughter in kindergarten this upcoming year. (Kirstin Cheers)

Woods and hundreds of other parents filled the auditorium at the Shelby County Board of Education on Saturday to learn about the pre-K and kindergarten options in the city. With a petting zoo, moon bounces and fair-like games and food, children had plenty to do while parents had the opportunity to enroll their children in early education programs. 

“We wanted to host this event for working families. Our screenings usually happen during the week when parents are working or even in school,” said Dr. Deanna McClendon, director of Early Childhood Education with Shelby County Schools who says over 96 percent of parents with children enrolled in the needs-based pre-K program are living at or below the poverty level.

The needs-based program covers children who are less prepared for early education based on a screening given at enrollment and registration, and they are given priority access to the free program. About 5,000 children are covered under the needs-based pre-K program. Seventy-four percent of kindergarten families, and over 8,400 children, are living at or below the poverty level, McClendon added.

The fair comes on the heels of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and the Memphis City Council’s announcement to commit $6 million toward universal pre-K.

“Making sure that our kids who need it the most have access to quality pre-K is one of the most important actions we can take today for the long-term improvement of the city we all love,” said Mayor Strickland at a press conference on March 17.

This isn’t the first time city leaders have made such an effort. In 2013, then city councilmembers Jim Strickland and Shea Flinn alongside Mayor A C Wharton pushed for a sales tax increase, promising the half-cent increase would fund pre-K programs for 5,000 Memphis four-year-olds. The proponents of the sales-tax increase argued raising taxes was the only viable source of funding. The referendum failed.

Parents were able to enroll and have their children screened at the Pre-K and Kindergarten Fair on Saturday, May 5th at the Board of Education. The fair was held for working families who are usually occupied during the weekdays. (Kirstin Cheers)

Funding for the recently-approved plan will come from two sources sources: $1.2 million from recurring tax revenues from property taxes and the rest from expiring tax incentives from (PILOTS). There are no plans to increase taxes. 

“This is a creative solution that doesn’t touch what we’re doing now with our operating budget — doesn’t touch what we’re doing with core services like police and fire,” Mayor Strickland said.

At the fair, parents were also offered a class on transitioning children from pre-K to kindergarten and first grade, ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and the kindergarten report card. Parents planning to enroll their children into a program are expected to provide two proofs of identification, the child’s dental exam, proof of income and the child’s shot records — the very thing Woods did not have.

“We couldn’t get her in today, but I’m going to get her in after I grab [the shot records] this week,” said Woods.

Rosaline Arnett brings her daughter (far right), her son and her nieces to the Pre-K and Kindergarten fair on Saturday, May 5 at the Board of Education. Arnette's daughter will start the first grade this year. Arnett is a social worker for Porter-Leath. (Kirstin Cheers)

Rosaline Arnett’s daughter, Brandee, will start first grade this upcoming school year. Arnett attended the fair with her sister and nieces, one of who will start kindergarten this year. Arnett, a social worker with Porter-Leath, says she’s seen first-hand what an impact pre-K can have on a child living in poverty.

“[Pre-K] makes a difference. Many of our parents can’t afford basic needs and health exams like vision and dental, and we provide that for them. We’ve seen children with learning disabilities gradually improve and become comfortable in a learning environment. That experience helps them before they enter kindergarten," she said. 

Porter-Leath also offers individualized early childhood development resources, a books-at-birth program where children are read to and given books from birth to five-years-old; and in-home family support and counseling.

According to the Urban Child Institute, children who attend pre-K are 36 percent more likely to attend a four-year college or university, potentially increasing their chances of having a better quality of life.

“I don’t remember ever attending pre-K,” said Woods as his daughter climbed on his back. “I just want her to have more than I ever did.”

The Pre-k and Kindergarten Fair was held on Saturday, May 5th at the Board of Education for working parents and community residents to learn more about the pre-k options in Memphis and potentially register their child into a program. (Kirstin Cheers)

Support for this story was provided in part by the Urban Child Institute; it is one article in a series highlighting the impact and importance of early childhood education.  The Urban Child Institute focuses its grant making, advocacy and community support on kindergarten readiness and third grade literacy in an effort to improve the education, health and well-being of children and families in Shelby County.

Read more articles by Kirstin Cheers.

Kirstin Cheers is a native South Memphian and freelance journalist. She's written for The Tri-State Defender and is a current contributor for iLoveMemphis blog and Professionally, she's the communications specialist at United Way of the Mid-South, a non-profit that supports agencies serving people living in poverty. 
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