Learning Ahead: Part 1

It's a place where some children first learn to read and write, but not every child has an equal opportunity to go there.

45 U.S. states have invested state funds in preschool education, but South Dakota is not one of them.

Tonight we visit the classrooms of two local teachers who see everyday how some kids without preschool enter kindergarten at the back of the pack.

It's part one of our three-part special report "Learning Ahead."

Alyssa Stanforth says, "Just the little things like holding a pencil the right way, being able to work a look the right way. How do we open a book? How does our finger go when we read? Those are all skills that they teach over in preschool and so when kids come in we notice that right away."

According to the Education Commission of the States, South Dakota is one of only five states in America that does not provide state funding for preschool education - the others are Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, and Wyoming.

Alyssa Stanforth teaches kindergarten at General Beadle Elementary in Rapid City.

She says she can see a major difference between students who had a quality preschool education, and those who had none.

Alyssa Stanforth says, "The kids that come in with preschool skills, they have some of those skills like being able to sit and attend to a book at the carpet. Even if the book is five to 10 minutes, they should be able to sit at least five minutes. So these kids can sit there and listen and be able to raise their hand the right way and then react to the book the right way."

Jacque Blaha is a preschool teacher at General Beadle.

She says her students learn not only academic skills like reading and counting, but they also learn social skills.

Jacque Blaha says, "We do a lot of social skills, getting them that foundation of how do you participate in a group? How do you walk in a line? Some of those school expectations. And then we also do Learning Without Tears. That curriculum looks at numbers and operations, looks at language and literacy, looks at readiness and writing. It also has a large vocabulary section."

Blaha's classroom is right next to Stanforth's.

Blaha says a lot of collaboration and planning goes on between the preschool class and the kindergarten class.

Jacque Blaha says, "Some of the curriculum we're using, they use in kindergarten so the kids in our classrooms get that for two years, get some of that verbage and get some of those activities that we're doing. They may get it in pre-k, but they'll get it again in kindergarten so they get that consistency. It's also nice to work with the kindergarten teachers, like what are some things they would really like kids to start kindergarten with?"

Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris has worked with RCPD since 1995, and he says the more we invest in early childhood education, the less we'll need to invest in the criminal justice system later in life.

According to the South Dakota Department of Corrections, in 2014, it cost nearly $54 per day to incarcerate a state prison inmate.
That's almost $19,000 a year per prisoner.

Karl Jegeris says, "So in my world, I of course run into kids that maybe make choices that aren't always the best and that kind of thing so we all know that the criminal justice system is an extremely expensive way to influence behavior."

The Perry Preschool Study tracked a group of Michigan students over a four decade span starting in 1965 comparing a group of students with a preschool education to a group without.

And the results were astounding.

The rate of arrest for students with pre-k were half the rate of those without.

More preschool students successfully completed high school and less were on welfare.

So for every $1 invested in preschool, taxpayers saved roughly $10.

Karl Jegeris says, "There is definitely a correlation between early childhood education and the lack of encounters with law enforcement or other negative aspects that can impact a child later in life."