More Than 1,700 Preschoolers Begin a New Year

It was the first day of school for hundreds of preschoolers throughout Des Moines.

It was the first day of school for hundreds of preschoolers throughout Des Moines.

Thursday morning marked the beginning of a long, exciting adventure for DMPS preschoolers at four primary centers and eleven satellite school sites. (There are also thirteen community partner sites around the district whose calendars are staggered.)

McKee is one of the four hub sites and the brand new parking lot that replaced an unpaved pick up/drop off area was already full by 8:00 AM as a fresh batch of little learners arrived to get started toward kindergarten readiness, some of them looking a little bewildered by everything swirling around them.

They were welcomed by School Improvement Leader Amy Kolln and a teaching and support staff anxious to help them get the hang of backpacks and lockers and alphabets. Besides the new parking lot McKee was modernized inside too as part of an overall renovation that customized it to its repurposing as an exclusively preschool facility.

The rooms are named accordingly. Science labs and band practice halls will come in due course. For now it’s the Humpty Dumpty Room. And Hickory Dickory Dock, Jack & Jill, etc.

DMPS preschool programming aligns with district curricular guidelines as well as federal and state standards for early childhood education and is schooling, not daycare. In addition, the four preschool centers (Woodlawn, Mitchell and Jesse Franklin Taylor in addition to McKee) offer an array of family support services including parent education, family engagement, case management, problem solving, and mental health consultation. The environments are rich in best practices based on abundant research demonstrating that early childhood education is vital in preparing children to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

“DMPS currently has 1,702 preschool slots across five funding sources (Statewide Voluntary Preschool, Head Start, Shared Visions, Early Childhood Iowa, Early Childhood Special Education) and they are all full,” according to Susie Guest, the district’s Director of Early Childhood Education.  “As of this week, we have a waiting list of 103 children.”

Guest wants to get the word out about a couple of opportunities for community engagement in district preschool.

One is Coffee and Connections.

“Once a month, each of our four Early Childhood buildings is hosting a get-together for parents. Parents of preschoolers are invited to stop by for a chance to connect with other parents, the school, and with community resources.” For more information about C&C, click here.

There’s also the district’s Head Start Policy Committee. Des Moines Public Schools has 19 Head Start classrooms; during the first few days of school the parents in each of these classrooms elect representatives to serve on HSPC. The practice of shared decision-making gives a voice to all stakeholders, and the committee is a good way parents can participate. It meets the fourth Tuesday of each month and meetings are open to the public. Click here for details.

At McKee, Kolln presides as a shining example of what a Head Start can mean for a child and a powerful advocate for the expansion of early childhood education. On Thursday she strode the new parking lot and the updated hallways with a walkie-talkie on her hip and a reassuring smile on her face as she made the Opening Day rounds.

“I grew up in Denison, Iowa and I was a Head Start kid,” she shared. She rose from tough circumstances all the way to valedictorian of her high school class, a bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University and a master’s at Drake University. “Now I’m going for my doctorate,” said the leader of one of the key points of entry for the largest school district in the state, one that aspires to be the national model for urban education. She was standing right outside Room 107, aka The Farmer in the Dell. On the floor was a small, square box of books. Jutting from the top of it like a hand raised in a classroom was one entitled A is for Apple.

That’s just the beginning.

Photos for the First Day of Preschool

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