Preschool aid works for poor, study finds

Judy Centers are helping to prepare children for kindergarten, beyond

July 13, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Disadvantaged children who participated in preschool programs performed as well as students who did not by the end of their kindergarten year, according to findings of an evaluation that examined the state's Judith P. Hoyer Early Child Care and Education Enhancement Program.

The two-year review, released yesterday, looked at the impact of programs and services offered by 13 Judy Centers, named in honor of the late wife of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, who helped oversee childhood education in Prince George's County school system.

Since 2001 when the centers were established around the state, 11 more have been added, including one at Cradlerock School in Columbia.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Tuesday's editions incorrectly reported that Rosa Murillo-Ahumada earned a General Educational Development certificate through the Judy Center's adult partnership program. Murillo-Ahumada is working toward earning a Maryland high school diploma. The Sun regrets the error.

Flanked by state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and surrounded by parents, children and Judy Center coordinators at Cradlerock School, Hoyer said the evaluation's results confirm what his wife had advocated for years -- that early childhood education prepares pupils for kindergarten and helps them succeed.

"Judy was convinced early in her career ... that if you intervene early, you could make a positive difference in every child's life," Hoyer said.

In the past several years, Maryland has been directing resources to educate preschoolers and kindergarten pupils. To that end, the state has required that school systems implement full-day kindergarten by the 2007-2008 school year.

In the fall, Howard County will offer full-day kindergarten at seven schools: Bryant Woods, Laurel Woods, Phelps Luck, Running Brook, Stevens Forest, Talbott Springs elementaries and Cradlerock, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school.

Courtney Watson, chairman of the Howard County school board, said Cradlerock's Judy Center would complement full-day kindergarten and "levels the playing field" for pupils.

Judy Centers -- in 21 counties, including Baltimore and Carroll counties and Baltimore City -- provide comprehensive before- and after-school services for preschool and kindergarten children and their families, including special education, literacy, health and social service programs.

Parents also can learn job-related skills and enroll in other programs, including General Education Development and English classes.

Among the other key findings in the evaluation that covered the 2001-2003 school years:

Judy Centers increased access to early child care and education programs. Enrollment for infant and toddler programs increased by 72 percent while enrollment for summer programs rose more than four-fold.

Parental involvement also increased with enrollment for family programs, including parenting, family counseling and home visiting, rising over two years. The number of people participating in classes for parents rose 21 times over a two-year period.

Of the 65 early child care and education programs at Judy Centers, 92 percent met state or federal accreditation requirements.

The study found that at-risk children -- including those from low-income families, or with limited English or special-education needs -- who enrolled in Judy Center programs for up to 14 months made significant progress and closed the achievement gap by the end of kindergarten.

The Judy Center at Cradlerock serves 346 children, including 123 who receive full-day, year-round services, according to Anne Yenchko, director of the school's Judy Center.

Among them are Rosa Murillo-Ahumada and her three sons, Cristian, 9, Anthony, 7, and Michael, 5. Speaking through a translator, Murillo-Ahumada told the audience yesterday that she was able to earn a General Educational Development certificate through the Judy Center's adult program.

Moreover, the center provided her with a translator when Michael needed eye surgery, Murillo-Ahumada said.

"That was good because it enabled me to make a smart decision about my child's health," she said through the translator.

In closing her remarks, Murillo-Ahumada said, in English, "It was a great opportunity to improve the life of my family."

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