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Governor Visits Kentwood, Talks About Early Education Investment

The state’s investment into early childhood education programs has resulted in 830 more children in Greater Grand Rapids attending tuition-free preschool this year compared to last.

Gov. Rick Snyder and his wife, Sue Snyder, visited Kentwood Public Schools’ Alexander Elementary Early Childhood Center recently to read to preschoolers and tour the ECC.

Snyder said he’s committed to ensuring Michigan is a “no-wait” list when it comes to access to free preschool for families who qualify through the Great Start Readiness Program.

“We want to see these kids be successful,” he told local administrators, parents and community members. “I want to see them stay in Michigan and be successful.

“When I took office we had 29,000 kids in our state that did not have the opportunity to go to preschool,” he said. “No one should have to wait. We’ve made Michigan a no-wait state for early childhood education by making the largest investment over the past two years than any state in the nation. It’s goingto pay off in terms of giving a brighter opportunity and future for kids.”

The state’s $130 million investment into early childhood education has opened up slots in GSRP, which serves children of low-income families. Mike Ghareeb, Kent ISD director of Early Childhood Education, said 4,930 slots were allocated within districts in the Kent ISD based on a community-needs assessment to determine how many students would be eligible. The Kent ISD returned 600 slots because of space constraints, and has so far filled 3,511 slots. Last year, 2,641 slots Gov. Rick Snyder shakes hands with Kentwood Public Schools Superintendent Michael Zoerhoffwere filled.

“We have a sufficient amount of slots for the space we had available,” he said.

High Need Districts Benefitting

Districts with the most new slots include those with many low-income families including Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kentwood, Wyoming, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Kenowa Hills, Cedar Springs, Comstock Park and Sparta. Kent ISD provides oversight for GSRP classrooms in 18 school districts.

Kentwood Superintendent Mike Zoerhoff said the ECC enrolls 495 students in free, tuition-based and special education programs. There is space for everyone.

“It’s created more slots for our kids who may not have attended preschool because either they couldn’t afford it or didn’t know about it. Anytime you can get kids in school before kindergarten it does everything to catch them up and get them ready for when they start kindergarten.”

Parent Erika Yotkois, a Kentwood resident who has been a foster parent to19 children and is currently fostering three, said she’s seen firsthand how preschool helps students from low-income households. They learn to socialize with other children, build trusting relationships with adults and benefit from a schedule.

“I think the fastest growth happens in preschool,” she said.

The free program helps Yotkois pay for things many of her foster children have lacked in the past, like adequate clothing.

Snyder also talked about modeling the state’s Pathways to Potential program, after Kent School Service, a started by Kent ISD. KSSN, a countywide program, brings social and medical services to students’ schools and homes. It is run through a partnership with seven districts and Kent ISD, working to increase student achievement, lower absences, and improve coordination and delivery of services as needed.

“I borrowed it for the entire state of Michigan because it’s worked so well. I really appreciate what they’ve done in terms of putting case workers and more resource in schools to provide more support for families in need,” Snyder said. “We’ve leveraged KSSN’s model. We are in 200 schools across in Michigan.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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