The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

August 23, 2013

Limestone system secures $120K grant to fund pre-K unit

By Kim West

TANNER — The Tanner Little Rattlers pre-kindergarten program debuted this week at Tanner High School with 18 students thanks to a $120,000 start-up grant through the state’s Office of School Readiness.

The Limestone school system is among 93 new grant recipients statewide after OSR received more than 200 applications for voluntary pre-K classes.

First Class is the state’s funded pre-K program, which is administered through the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs Office of School Readiness. First Class, which will receive $28.5 million from the state Legislature for fiscal 2014, had about 3,900 students attend pre-K at 217 sites during the 2012-13 school year.

“The main purpose of pre-K is to give 4-year-old students a high-quality education so they’re ready for kindergarten,” said Allison Usery, elementary curriculum coordinator for the Limestone school system.

New program

She said school officials held a drawing this summer to select the 4-year-olds from throughout the county attending the Little Rattlers program, which costs between $40 and $300 month. Usery said the sliding-scale fee is based on a family’s income. The Tanner program is taught by first-year teacher Laci Ham and assistant teacher Stephanie Brock.

“We will continue to accept applications if people want to get on the waiting list, and students do not have to live in the Tanner school district to attend the Little Rattlers program,” Usery said.

She said parents can still submit applications through the system’s departmental Web page and can download the form through the elementary curriculum’s 4-year-old programs page. Applications are also accepted at the central office at 300 S. Jefferson St.

Usery said she wrote grants to add pre-K programs to each school in the county with a kindergarten component. She said OSR officials visited two sites within the Limestone system and settled on Tanner as a grant recipient.

“Having that highly-qualified teacher, as well as the OSR guidelines that make sure we’re using best practices — I think that’s one of the best things about the (OSR) program. It uses developmentally appropriate practices that do not use worksheet-type activities,” she said. “It’s learning through how 4-year-olds learn best, by working with letters, number operations and number sense but doing it through play (activities), such as Play-Doh, sand and finger painting.”

Pre-K expansion

She said the system intends to eventually have OSR-funded pre-K programs at every elementary and K-12 school. Owens, Cedar Hill and Blue Springs recently received Head Start grants to fund 18-student programs in partnership with the Community Action Partnership of North Alabama.

Usery said Piney Chapel has 36 pre-K students funded by CAA, and Tanner also has a Head Start in the former primary school building. Johnson Elementary currently has three inclusive pre-K programs that serve students with special needs and also accepts fee-based traditional students. Johnson also has an OSR-funded pre-K program.

“We would eventually love to have Office of School Readiness pre-K at all the schools. We’re thrilled to have the Head Start ones but we would love to get ones that service all the children in the county,” Usery said.