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03/08/2019

This New York City charter network is taking its lessons to toddlers


Preschool is already too late, if you ask Ian Rowe.

The head of Public Prep charter schools in New York City believes that, when it comes to setting students up for academic success, the key is starting earlier. Much, much earlier.

That’s why the network has teamed up with a pair of nonprofits to start getting children ready for school when they’re just toddlers — a full two years before even enrolling in pre-K. The unique partnership sends trained mentors to meet with families in their own homes, helping moms and dads guide their child’s earliest learning experiences.

“We found ourselves having to play catch up in kindergarten, and that was always a challenge,” Rowe said. “If we could get to our kids earlier, then obviously we would have a headstart and get better outcomes.”

Public Prep has five single-gender campuses in the South Bronx and on the Lower East Side, serving mostly children who come from low-income families. Poverty can have profound effects on students, setting them back academically and making them less likely to start kindergarten with the early math and literacy skills they need to succeed in school.

Rowe felt his network needed to start tackling those opportunity gaps before they have a chance to open. So Public Prep turned to the nonprofits Parent-Child Home Program and Rising Ground to work with prospective students and families at their own kitchen tables and on living room floors.

These aren’t the types of parent conference visits that teachers may arrange in students’ homes. Rather, they are part of a range of home visiting programs that rely on trained professionals to establish long-term bonds with families. Done well, research has shown they may eventually boost high school graduation rates, raise test scores, and teach students to more effectively regulate their emotions in the classroom.

“Home visiting, it’s the ‘pre’ preschool,” said Karen Howard, vice president of early childhood policy at the D.C. advocacy organization First Focus. “Just with preschool, it’s not enough. When they fall behind, they’re really behind.”

Public Prep’s program works with the younger brothers and sisters of current students, starting when they are 18-months old. Since siblings receive an admissions priority at charter schools, the hope is that the little ones will eventually enroll in Public Prep — and that, if they do, they’ll be better prepared to learn from the first day of classes.

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