Prescott Unified School District understands the value in early learning opportunities. Its Discovery Gardens Early Childhood Center has been engaging children between 2 and 5 years old for nearly five decades.
What started as an early intervention program in 1975 is now an all-inclusive preschool opportunity for local children, serving a number of low income and undeserved families.
With 11 classrooms at multiple school sites, plus two childcare areas and a new toddler room, Discovery Gardens is helping youth build confidence, grow social-emotional skills and learn the proficiencies necessary to be successful in kindergarten and beyond.
To ensure that the kids get individualized attention, each classroom has one certified teacher and at least one paraprofessional. Teacher student ratios are 1:7 at the highest, which is critical for development at this age.
All classrooms follow early learning standards and teachers align their teaching schedules, even though each utilizes a unique learning philosophy.
On a given day, students will engage in pre-reading and pre-writing activities, free play, music and books, and more. And use of an app helps parents keep tabs on activities and learning progression.
Why quality early learning is important
According to the Arizona Education Progress Meter, one quarter of 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in quality early learning. Discovery Gardens is helping move the state toward the goal of boosting that 45 percent by 2030.
The Center has national accreditation and participates in Quality First, a program that aids providers in creating high quality early learning opportunities. It is also one of only four quality early learning options for families living in Prescott.
For the hundreds of kids enrolled, Discovery Gardens is making a big difference. Assessments show that most children grow in a variety of ways and their students perform better than the state average. And it’s in-demand – the program grows by about 20 percent a year.
The program’s capacity changes annually based on fluctuations in funding. And since Prescott Unified is a declining enrollment district, overall funding for the preschool program is decreasing.
With dozens on a waiting list, they also provide scholarships to a number of students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. One particular grant that ends in August 2019, provides 55 students with funding for their families to have their children participate in the preschool program.
Quality early learning opportunities can make a big difference in how a child fares in kindergarten and beyond. A child’s brain is still growing by leaps and bounds before the age of 5, which makes this a critical time for academic, social and emotional learning.
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