By Kelly Youngblood
Several public school districts in the Champaign-Urbana area offer free preschool to students 3- 5 years old, but they are geared more towards helping children at-risk.
Early childhood programs in Champaign, Urbana, Mahomet, and several rural districts say they look at a number of different factors when considering which students are considered at-risk.
“At-risk is a big word and can mean so many different things,” said Carol Shallenberger, principal of Middletown Prairie Elementary in Mahomet.
What each district does look for when determining eligibility is whether a student’s circumstances could impact their learning.
While income and home environment are factors on the list, numerous other components are considered including delays in emotional, social, physical, cognitive, and speech development.
“That list is long, it fills a full page,” Shallenberger said, “There are all sorts of things and one alone doesn’t qualify a family.”
In addition, districts can look at specific needs within their own communities to determine other qualifying factors.
Each student comes with his or her own unique circumstances, which is why districts evaluate each individual on a case-by-case basis, Shallenberger said.
All parents are encouraged to schedule a one-on-one screening for their child.
Even if a student doesn’t qualify, the screening will help give parents knowledge about their child’s strengths and abilities.
Contact your school district to learn how to sign up for a preschool screening.
Urbana Early Childhood School is a grant-funded program that can serve up to 360 students. Currently, there is a waiting list.
Champaign Early Childhood Center is also funded through the Preschool for All Grant. The preschool can enroll 300 students. Currently there are 100 students on the waiting list.
Spectrum Program is a preschool program for children living in rural Champaign County. It has three different sites in Thomasboro, Philo and St. Joseph and serves students in Gifford, Fisher, Ludlow, Thomasboro, Unit 7 District, Prairieview-Ogden District, and Heritage School District. It is currently serving 164 students and has a waiting list with about 60 students. For more information about the Spectrum Program, contact Lori Bednarz at 217-469-2291.
Middletown Prairie Elementary in Mahomet lost its preschool grant funding several years ago but the district has picked up the cost. The Mahomet preschool also offers a limited number of fee-based spots for students who aren’t considered at-risk. There is currently a waiting list for the program.
Do you have information about a school district in the area not on this list that offers free preschool? Let us know!