Early childhood education taking new steps in Sioux Falls schools
Effort will expand programs to more schools to be closer to families.
SIOUX FALLS - The Sioux Falls School District is expanding early childhood education options to be closer to the families where possible and provide more consistent and focused programs.
Some of the efforts are in their first year, while other plans will take effect this coming fall, said Elizabeth Jehangiri, the early childhood education coordinator who is spearheading the effort.
Jehangiri wishes the state would provide funding so the program could become more universal for 4-year-olds, to better prepare them for kindergarten and their educational future. But she said the district is lucky that it can offer what it does to the littlest and neediest learners. Many rural districts don’t have that opportunity, she said.
The city also has several private day cares and early education facilities, but she said the cost is out of reach for many families.
Serving about 1,200 students, the school district’s program uses a variety of federal and local funding sources to serve low-income families and those with special education youngsters. The district has enough federal funding this year to provide programs to 414 students in the Head Start program, 217 in Title One effort and 34 in the migrant program.
Through a partnership with United Way, the district was also able to provide 68 students on a waiting list of Head Start and or Title One-eligible students with classes. About 250 kids remain on the list.
Most of the others involved in early childhood programs are eligible through special education funding that serves students from birth to five years old. That number is in the 250 student range.
Jehangiri has heard from families of kids with disabilities that some of the parents can’t work because of the needed care.
“We tell them we are here to support them,” she said during a recent interview.
To help in the effort and expand offerings, the district hired another early childhood special education teacher and a speech pathologist this year. With those new positions, the district is offering services to 50 three to five-year-old special education kids out in the community in a more “natural environment setting.”
The two staff members will go to homes, day cares, private preschools or other locations.
“Some parents don’t feel comfortable having us come to their homes,” Jehangiri said. “So we can meet at other community locations such as a library.”
Another option for early educational opportunities is a fee-based program offered by the district for families of all incomes at a price of $155 every two weeks and about 85 students are currently in that effort.
By redrawing some boundaries, Jehangiri said they are spreading offerings across the city to try to make the programs more accessible.
Next year, for example, a facility is being remodeled near Southeast Technical Institute where the youngest students currently at the north-central Terry Redlin Elementary School and westside Hayward Elementary School areas will attend.
Students currently at the Susan B. Anthony Elementary School in the central part of the city will move to nearby Lowell Elementary to bring a majority of families closer to the classrooms and also to the schools where they will be attending kindergarten.
Other programs continuing at the same locations next year are in elementary schools at Anne Sullivan, Cleveland, Garfield, Harvey Dunn, Hawthorne, Laura B. Anderson and Pettigrew.
The United Way classes are offered at Robert Frost, while fee-based efforts are offered at Sonja Sotomayor, Discovery and John Harris.
The programs run for 3.5 hours. To bring more consistency she said the fee-based and United Way programs will also be expanded next year from 3 hours to 3.5.
By blending some funding sources, she said they will also be able to offer 17 more slots for youngsters next year in those two programs.
Jehangiri said they also started a new positive behavioral program this year that was aided by input from the program’s 36 teachers to focus on three main points. They are to be kind, be safe and be ready to learn.
Some of the specific ways they try to reach those goals are to emphasize how to clean up classrooms, remain calm, listen and work together.
The new effort also tries to reach wellness goals by helping the kids through nurturing relationships, supportive learning environments and targeted support for individuals needing extra help. The staff is hoping this new effort has a positive effect as students move through the educational system.
School board member Carly Reiter said she hopes such efforts also carry in to the kids’ homes and while they are in public.
In an effort again to provide more consistency through the several types of early education programs, the three instructors in the fee-based classes and the two in United Way funded programs are also able to join others for better communication by becoming eligible for teacher in-service programs and by providing paid planning time.
Jehangiri said it’s “tough” to fill teaching slots, but they are doing OK.
As for students on the Head Start waiting list and the city’s growing population, the early education coordinator said funding can be the problem.
However, she hopes they can make a dent in the future.
To find out more about the various programs as far as eligibility and screening, parents can call 605-367-8488.