The Flint public school district is expanding early childhood education programs.
The three-, four- and five-year-olds at the Great Expectations Early Childhood Program at Holmes STEM Academy are the lucky ones. The waiting list to get into this program is hundreds of names long.
But Superintendent Bilal Tawwab says the University of Michigan-Flint is working to expand the program, which he says is critical.
“It always had been, but given the lead in our community is even more critical to activate children’s minds and bodies to combat the effects of lead exposure,” says Tawwab.
Studies have shown early education and nutrition programs help counter the effects of lead in the body.
“We offer learning opportunities through every chance we get in the classroom,” says teacher Shauna Philips.
Ashley Smith’s four-year-old daughter Tionna is part of the Great Expectations program. Smith says her daughter is developmentally delayed, and this program is very important for her.
“Having this available is amazing,” Smith says. “I have to bribe her to come home at the end of the day.”
But until now, it’s been very difficult to get their pre-school age children into the program. The waiting list is about 300 names long.
The district and university hope to add 250 early education students late this year. That should come close to meeting demand for early education in Flint. However, school officials say there are thousands of students who could benefit from the program who are not currently enrolled.
In the short term, the district expects to spend $150,000 to begin the expansion. But to reach the district’s ultimate goal, Superintendent Tawwab says the school system will need outside help. He says the district is talking with various foundations.
Bob Barnett is the dean of the education program at U of M-Flint. He says by expanding the university’s role in early education in Flint, they can provide more learning opportunities for students.
“It’s an important way to give professional development to our future teachers,” says Barnett.
The Genesee Intermediate School District is also expanding its early childhood programs in Flint.