by James Fisher
BUCKHANNON -- Upshur County School Board members last week took a step toward joining the many other counties in North Central West Virginia that have preschool classes in the curriculum.
Board members approved three recommendations from a committee conducting a yearly review of the county's Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan, including one concerning adding preschool, said board President Gary Frush.
If the board does add the preschool program, it will be a major boon to the children of Upshur County, said Superintendent Mary Alice Klein.
"There are a number of children in Upshur County not involved in any preschool experience. We had a task force last year that included school officials, all the private child care centers, the Child Development Center (of Central West Virginia) and Head Start," Klein said. "We also did a study to find parents who would be interested in preschool programs."
Preschool programs are becoming an emphasis of school systems state- and nation-wide, said state Superintendent Dr. David Stewart. State officials have been discussing adding preschool classes to the state curriculum since this summer, he said.
"Many other states are ahead of West Virginia in terms of 3- and 4-year-olds," he said. "We need a method to inform families what children need so they're ready for school."
Learning how to learn, developing good social skills and better academic achievement are just some of the many benefits for children who attend preschool classes, Stewart said. Nationally conducted research has shown that 3- and 4-year-old children are mentally ready to learn, he said, and preparing them for their school years is invaluable.
County school officials throughout North Central West Virginia say that existing preschool programs are very successful and have shown marked improvement in students' social skills as well as their adjustment to daily school schedules.
"Many children at age three or four are very sophisticated compared to children in the 50s and 60s, because of all the development toys and educational television shows," said Taylor County Superintendent Jane Reynolds. "Kids have a great desire to learn and when it's a combination of play and learning it happens best when the children are together."
Taylor County is one of the many school systems in North Central West Virginia that have preschool. Other systems that offer preschool classes are Randolph, Harrison, Doddridge, Barbour, Marion and Lewis counties.
Barbara Korn, assistant superintendent of Randolph schools, said preschool is so successful in that county that she'd like to expand the program. Aside from developing social skills earlier, children who are involved with preschool often enjoy more parental involvement throughout their school career, she said, which translates into higher academic success.
Randolph County also is one of only eight counties in the state that offer Even Start, a comprehensive preschool/parent education program.
Lewis County has a program that targets developmentally delayed students using peers as well as teachers, said Dr. Carol Williams.
"The delayed students get targeted help on whatever delay they may have and the peers get the socialization component," Williams said.
Upshur County's program, if approved, will probably be designed to work hand-in-hand with Head Start and the Child Development Center of West Virginia so services are not duplicated and the maximum number of children can be served, Klein said.
The two groups already serve a large number of Upshur County's preschool-age children, but more classes are needed, she said.
Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.