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Young students thrive with Tempe PRE
Every day, 4-year-old Evander Cook heads into his Tempe PRE classroom ready to take on the latest preschool challenge: writing letters and numbers, learning a new song, creating a colorful piece of art, making new friends.
But he’s not the only one in the family hard at work.
With Evander busy at preschool, his father Stephen, who supports the family as a self-employed musician, is freed up to take on additional work and spend extra hours rehearsing for performances. Mom Bridget has greater flexibility to care for the couple’s younger son Parker, who is just under 2 years old and has multiple health issues that require frequent medical and therapy appointments.
For the Cooks, the Tempe PRE program - offering high-quality preschool at no cost to qualifying families - is an ideal fit. And they are not alone.
This school year, as many as 360 children and their families benefitted from the city-driven Tempe PRE program.
Following the education roadmap
At its core, Tempe PRE is boosting kindergarten readiness and helping ensure long-term school success for children across the city. In addition, the all-day program is freeing up parents to go back to work, enroll in school, find a better job and more.
Parents are singing PRE’s praises. Their children have experienced academic, social and emotional successes, and they also see the city as a partner in meeting wide-ranging needs for their families.
At the direction of the City Council, Tempe’s Human Services Department launched Tempe PRE in 2017 as a two-year pilot program designed to increase access to high-quality preschool.
Eligible families must live in Tempe and have a gross income that is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For example, a family of four with a gross income of $50,200 or less will qualify. For a family of five, that figure is $58,840 or less.
Tempe PRE students are taught by early childhood education teachers using child-centered curriculum. The program's 20 classrooms are housed in 13 local elementary schools through partnerships with the Tempe Elementary and Kyrene school districts.
Providing high-quality preschool in Tempe is vital to the city’s Education Roadmap plan. To improve the lives of all Tempe children, the plan focuses on ensuring that children: live in stable and nurturing families; are mentally and physically healthy; are ready to succeed in school; live in safe and supportive neighborhoods; and make successful transitions to adulthood.
Getting kindergarten ready
Tonia and Josue Garcia were thrilled to have 4-year-old Makayli in Tempe PRE at Wood Elementary.
Tonia is a full-time ICU nurse who is also back in school to become a family nurse practitioner. With her full schedule, Josue, formerly a respite care worker and videographer, stays at home to care for the family’s four children, including a newborn, 2 year old and 10 year old.
The couple knew that Makayli was ready for the challenge of preschool but the cost was out of reach.
“Even though I’m a nurse, I am providing for a family of six,” Tonia said. “It’s not an easy task so financially I have these things that I want to do for my children and I can’t.”
“She is very, very bright,” Tonia said. “My husband and I both worked with her so upon entering preschool she already knew her ABCs and numbers and shapes and colors. She was actually excited about learning.”
At Wood, Makayli developed a host of new skills, including writing her name, honing her fine motor skills by doing things like using scissors and properly grasping a pencil, and learning to socialize and make friends. Even playing on the playground was beneficial, improving her coordination.
Makayli also became accustomed to the length of an actual school day, which will be important when she moves into full-day kindergarten, her mom said.
Tonia and Josue take what Makayli learns at Wood and expand on it at home.
“We really wanted to get her prepared for kindergarten,” she said.
Future looks bright
Tempe PRE is helping the Cook family do that for Evander too.
Stephen, a concert pianist with a doctorate from Arizona State University, and Bridget Cook both attended Tempe public schools and their mothers each taught in the city. The couple was grateful to land a preschool spot for their oldest son at Laird School through Tempe PRE.
Enrolling him in a preschool program on their own wasn’t an option.
“Financially it was very expensive,” Bridget said. “It wasn’t feasible for our family.”
The couple knew that Evander was ready for a challenge academically. Full of energy, he already enjoyed reading and activities like coloring. They also wanted him in a nurturing and kid-friendly preschool setting rather than always going along to his brother’s medical appointments.
This year, Evander thrived at Laird. He socialized with his peers, read with an older reading buddy, had fun with arts and crafts, ate breakfast and lunch on campus, and came home reciting new poems and singing new songs.
“He can write his numbers and letters and he likes to draw all the time,” Stephen said. “He was showing interest (before Tempe PRE) but now he’s really getting good at it.”
“He loves to go to school too,” he said.
The benefits of Tempe PRE are far reaching for the Cooks. More work opportunities for Stephen means more financial stability for the family, Bridget said.
“Obviously, it’s helped me be able to focus on Parker’s needs,” she added. “We’ve seen so much growth and emotional stability for Evander.”
“For our family, I really can’t say enough about this program.”
To apply for Tempe PRE, visit www.tempe.gov/TempePRE. For more about Tempe's education efforts, visit www.tempe.gov/education.