By Kristin Jones
Lorena Limón, who lives in the Ruby Hill neighborhood of southwest Denver, beat dismal odds to enroll her youngest son in a public preschool near her home. An older son was on a preschool waiting list for two years; he went straight to kindergarten. Some programs in her neighborhood only offered half-day preschool; Limón doesn’t drive, so that would mean making a 20-minute walk each way, and then having little time for anything else before having to turn around and do it again. But when her four-year-old was suspended, Limón took her youngest son out of school. (The school’s principal was unable to confirm this incident occurred, though she says the school does not generally suspend preschool-age students.) Limón felt her son was discriminated against—a white child he had tussled with wasn’t suspended—and that was a deal-breaker for her. “Was it because he is Hispanic?” she wondered.
Limón’s son is now enrolled in kindergarten at a different school, and she has become a parent leader for Padres & Jóvenes Unidos. The organization, which has historically focused on children from kindergarten to high school, has begun to take a closer look at the gaps in education that start before kindergarten. Children make huge strides in development and learning well before age five, and high-quality preschool can mean the difference between a student who starts kindergarten on track with his or her peers, and a child who may never catch up. But while families living in Denver’s more affluent neighborhoods—Cherry Creek, Congress Park and Cheesman Park—enroll their kids in preschool at rates approaching 100 percent, the rate in poorer neighborhoods is far lower: in Sun Valley, 16 percent; in Westwood, 24 percent, according to the Denver Office of Children’s Affairs.
Padres & Jóvenes Unidos last week released results of its survey of more than 300 residents of southwest Denver, who either had direct, recent experience with enrolling their children in preschool, or whose three- and four-year-olds were not attending preschool. Their survey respondents were roughly 90 percent Latino, and most were Spanish-speaking. Their results debunked a prevailing myth that Latino families prefer to keep their kids at home with family members. Instead, they found that 45 percent of the respondents whose preschool-age kids weren’t enrolled in preschool said there was no availability in local facilities; some had long waiting lists, and others were simply full. Another 26 percent said that preschools weren’t conveniently located, while 19 percent cited poor quality as a reason for keeping their kids out of their local preschools. Only eight out of 134 people surveyed said they were keeping their kids out of preschool because of a preference for other childcare arrangements.
“This is discrimination,” said Elodia Romero, a parent and organizer with at a presentation of the organization’s survey results last week. “This is the start of the achievement gap.” Susana Cordova, the acting superintendent of Denver Public Schools, was in attendance to give the official response at the Padres & Jóvenes Unidos event. She said that the report validated the work that the school district has been doing to expand preschool options in Denver, and showed that there was more to be done. A 2012 mill levy has supported the expansion of preschool programs in Denver, said Cordova, allowing the district to add 1,300 half-day slots. Still, said Cordova, about 38 percent of kindergarten kids in Denver Public Schools didn’t attend any preschools.
Read the entire story here: http://www.coloradotrust.org/content/blog/report-achievement-gap-starts-preschool
By Kristin Jones