I was a young, first-time mother when my eldest daughter turned four. I knew nothing about preschool and its importance, or anything about how to go about finding a school and enrolling her.
I grew up in Mexico and never attended preschool myself. Most of the other young mothers I knew didn’t send their children to preschool and hadn’t attended themselves.
Not knowing any better, I kept her at home with me until it was time for her to start kindergarten. I realize now that it would have been much better for her to start school earlier, and I have not repeated that mistake with my second daughter, or my youngest, who is in preschool as a three-year-old.
My eldest is now a sixth-grader at an all-girls middle school, and she is doing well. But she struggled during her early elementary school years, in part, because she didn’t have the advantage of an early start to her school career. It wasn’t until I enrolled her as a fourth-grader at Rocky Mountain Prep (RMP), a public charter elementary school in Denver, that she was able to catch up and perform at grade level.
My two youngest children also attend Rocky Mountain Prep. This year, I helped RMP recruit new students by making phone calls to prospective families, and I learned that there are many young parents out there who suffer from the same lack of information I did when my eldest was preschool age.
When I would first call, parents often said things like, “Oh no, my son is only three, he is much too young to be in school. He will get tired too fast and that will make him dislike school.”
I always told them, “No, this is actually the perfect time to start him in school. He will love school more every day if he starts young, and it will build his self-esteem.” Whenever I told parents this, they were always amazed. They had no idea.
Many parents feel they’re also at a disadvantage because many preschool programs fill up early. If they don’t have information about the application process and timing, even those who want to enroll their children might find themselves out of luck.
I know I was helpful when I told them my story and tried to impress upon them the importance of enrolling their children as three- or four-year-olds. I always described to them the difference between my current kindergartner, who can read short books, sound out letters, and tie her shoes, and my eldest, who entered kindergarten, unable to do any of those things. Her classmates who had been to preschool were far ahead of her in their preparation.
I also provided information about district enrollment deadlines, which many families knew nothing about.
Today, I’m sure there are still families that don’t know there are still pre-school seats available for next year. Even though the Denver Public Schools (DPS) SchoolChoice and enrollment deadline has passed for round one, Rocky Mountain Prep still has seats available for pre-school at the Berkeley and Southwest campuses within DPS as well as the Fletcher campus within Aurora Public Schools.
As a community, we need to work hard to ensure that all parents understand the importance of preschool in their children’s academic and social development. We also must level the playing field by ensuring that they have easy access to information about when and how to enroll their children.
As long as we have many parents without this information, we will have students starting their school careers at a disadvantage. And that means we will continue to have large achievement gaps, and thousands of children falling behind their peers each year.
It does not have to be this way. Let’s fix it.
Rosa Maldonado is a proud Mexican-American parent of three girls. As a stay-at-home mom she works to make herself available to her children and their needs in and outside of school.