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Why the fight for pre-K matters

While we make time for fun and games, pre-K teachers prepare our students to master basic skills like reading, writing and math.

As a pre-K teacher, I help my kids use the power of imagination to solve problems. Minnesota lawmakers can use the same approach. They should imagine a future where universal pre-K helps us tackle our state’s achievement gap, makes us competitive globally, and helps families across the state.

Nate Mathias

Encouraging the imagination of children is just one part of our work. While we make time for fun and games, we prepare our students to master basic skills like reading, writing and math. After their time with us, we work so that they will enter kindergarten and be familiar with and excited about learning in school. 

For example, one of my 4-year-olds arrived to class unable to hold a pencil and unsure of what the letters are in his name. With a mix of imagination, time and hard work, he was reading independently within a few months.

Imagine the possibilities if all 4-year-olds in Minnesota were reading before kindergarten. Why can’t we achieve that goal?

Amazing to watch

Minnesota’s 4-year-olds are capable of things beyond what many know to expect from young children. I am amazed every day as I watch them develop socially, emotionally and academically. Unfortunately, many hard-working, middle-class Minnesota families don’t make enough to afford a quality pre-k education, and don’t qualify for scholarships.

My spouse and I both work. When we searched for pre-K options, we found the most affordable centers were only able to enroll our son for two days a week for the equivalent we were paying for five days a week of in-home day care.

Fortunately, my union negotiated a job benefit that allows me to send my son to my program. Otherwise, we teachers would not be able to afford to send our own children to the pre-K program whose success we see every day.

The power of that program is extremely difficult to replicate at home — even for me as a professional pre-K teacher. Most obviously, there simply is no substitute for the playful introduction to the classroom that we offer. There also simply aren’t enough hours in the day for many parents to go to their job, take care of their child’s needs, spend quality time with their child, and run through a lesson plan.

For decades now researchers, parents, teachers and legislators have espoused the benefits of early-childhood education. Children who have been through a pre-K classroom are demonstrating greater proficiency with language comprehension, math concepts, social skills and growth of reading level than their peers whose parents were unable to provide it for them.

Ready for kindergarten

My pre-K students enter kindergarten with well-developed social skills, the ability to read, and a demonstrated proficiency in skills and comprehension for kindergarten readiness. These children leave my class at the end of the year with confidence, a curiosity for learning and an excitement for going to school.

Contrast with those who are beginning kindergarten without a pre-K education; some have never tried handwriting before or struggle to identify their own name or the letters of the alphabet. Many cry for weeks when their parents leave, taking up valuable learning time.

How do we begin to address this inequity so early in these kids’ academic lives? Do they compound over the years to the detriment of the unknowing child, simply because of their family’s income?

In an age where human capital has never been greater, when states like Wisconsin, Georgia and Oklahoma are providing wide access to pre-K, why wait until age 5 to start what can be accomplished in the classroom at age 4? Imagine the possibilities if Minnesota’s children all began their race with an equal footing at the starting line.

As a parent, educator and invested Minnesotan, I urge our elected officials to pass universal pre-K for all students so all parents, regardless of income, can provide the best opportunities for their children. 

Nate Mathias is a pre-K teacher in Wayzata Public Schools.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/03/2015 - 09:14 am.

    I don’t mean to discourage you

    But you’ll probably find that the future success of your young charges will more likely be due to the fact that you’re in Wayzata than anything else.

    Your should take your considerable enthusiasm and optimism for your work to North Minneapolis and see how that goes.

  2. Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/03/2015 - 09:16 am.

    Hear Hear

    My oldest is all signed up for next fall. Another issue is transportation. As the district will not bus for pre k we are forced to pay for before school care on the three days he will be enrolled a week (all we can afford) as well as in home care the other two days. Thankfully my wife’s employer is at least allowing some flexibility with regards to afternoon pick up, or we’d need after school care too. Bottom line being, we are teetering on the precipice of affordability for child care as it is, its disheartening that attempting to do what’s best for our child (as well as society in the long run) might wind up pushing us over. I have no expectation that I should be getting anything for free, but if I have such struggles, with my relatively decent income, I shudder to think at the struggles of those less fortunate.

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 03/03/2015 - 03:22 pm.

    Nate, your heart looks to be in a great place. I’m sure you do a wonderful job. Kindergarten came in as a half day with most emphasis on learning to play with others. It then became a full day with more standard learning- reading and math. It was sold to parents on full day will help the students do better moving forward through grades 1-12. It didn’t help. Graduation rates and standard testing has been going down for decades now. I’m not sure pre K will help either.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/03/2015 - 06:43 pm.

      Let me guess

      Turning the education system over to corporate America (ooh boy can’t wait for Wal-Mart style bargain basement education) or putting God back in the classroom will right? Hey at least you’ve stopped with the minority and poverty bashing.

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 03/04/2015 - 01:23 am.

    Turning it over to state and local school boards is the answer. Get Fed Govt out. The more you localize any issue the more control those directly affected have over it. DC elites have no clue what children in Orr MN need to succeed in school. Parents, teachers and school board have away better handle on it. Can’t see any down side to having God in schools since you mentioned it. If I was interested in Wal-mart style education I’d be all in with Common Core and Fed Govt running it, I’m for locals running it.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/04/2015 - 09:37 am.

      Yes of course

      Since local school boards (especially in a place like Orr) can’t be purchased by the highest bidder. Its really SO much better to have locals, with their petty personal feuds, childish vendettas, provincial worldview, and utter inexperience running the show. (In case you can’t tell, I come from a small town). Find a way to make school board elections something other than than a contest of who can put out the most yard signs and you might have something, until then I’d prefer the professionals in charge.

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