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Preschool Application Process Opens this Month

District 49’s Early Childhood Education team is preparing to enter its second year of Colorado Universal Preschool (UPK) as the application process opens this month. In UPK’s first year, 40,000 children are attending preschool in Colorado. D49 has approximately 500 preschool students currently enrolled. 

One major change with UPK is the application and registration process. In past years, D49 has offered Round-Up events in the spring as a first opportunity for parents to apply for the upcoming school year. The previous process also included a developmental screening. Since parents of pre-kindergarten students now have to apply through the state UPK system, and not local school districts, D49 has adapted its process and Round-Up is no longer part of the initial application.

“Rather than hosting an annual Round-Up for preschool-age children, our Early Childhood Education staff are offering developmental screenings throughout the school year,” said Stacey Powell, D49’s Coordinator of Early Childhood Education. 

Despite families eagerly waiting, the UPK application process for new and returning families does not open until Thursday, Feb 29.

“If your child is in their pre-kindergarten year, parents can complete a UPK application. The state then uses an algorithm to match your child to one of your chosen preschool programs,” Powell said. “To attend a D49 preschool, you must live within the district’s boundaries.”

Pre-kindergarten year specifies children turning 4 years old on or before Oct. 1, 2024. 

“Acceptance to a preschool program is based on availability,” Powell said. “As of October 2023, there were nearly 800 pre-kindergarten children who were on a waiting list across El Paso County for a UPK preschool spot. We do our best to plan classes, anticipating students who may apply after the initial enrollment in August.”

Powell also realizes there is some confusion about applying for preschool for younger children.

UPK prioritizes serving children in their pre-kindergarten year. For children not in their pre-kindergarten year (turns 4 on or after Oct. 2, 2024) families must complete a District 49 preschool application, not a UPK application. A limited number of younger children may qualify for UPK funded placement, but they must have other qualifying factors as outlined in the UPK rules. 

“We get a lot of phone calls from parents who are trying to figure out which application process they need to follow,” Powell said. 

For the traditional pre-kindergarten child, tuition to preschool is funded by the state for up to 15 hours of instruction a week. For families with younger children, there may be a tuition fee required. Currently, our tuition rate is $402 a month. D49 offers preschool four days a week, for a total of 12 hours each week, which meets the state requirements for a part-time program.

“Public school districts are mandated to identify and provide special education services to children who qualify for IEPs starting at age 3,” Powell said. “State guidance is to provide children who have been identified with a disability opportunities to interact with same-age peers who do not have an identified disability.”  

“What we have in our classrooms is a mix of children turning 3 years old to students in their pre-kindergarten year,” Powell said. “Some with disabilities, some without, and some that meet other qualifying factors. We try to keep a good balance. Colorado Preschool Program, the previous state funded program, did the research and found there is a lot of benefit in attending preschool for young children, especially for those at risk. I think UPK is a really good idea because it does offer families an option which prepares kids for kindergarten.”

Mollie Venable, Early Childhood Specialist, said, “With UPK, we are hoping to see more kids attending during their pre-kindergarten year. By getting that early school experience, we anticipate students entering kindergarten will have better social skills, the ability to follow basic instructions, and a good foundation into the educational world.” 

Developmental Screening

Nearly every month, D49 Early Childhood Education staff members host screenings across the district at different schools. 

“Developmental screenings include vision, hearing, dental, and screening of overall developmental milestones for children between the ages of 2 years, 9 months until they are eligible for kindergarten, about the age of 5,” Powell said.

“We screen the child’s social, emotional, conceptual, language, and motor skills,” Venable said. “Screenings are important because we want parents to know what the developmental milestones are for their children and whether they are meeting them. We look at the whole picture of the child.”

Screenings are not mandatory, but they are a free service we offer to D49 families that want to see where their child is developmentally or if they have concerns. 

“It’s good for parents to be aware of the milestones. If they are a first-time parent, they might not know if there is cause for concern,” Venable said. “It’s important to intervene early on because if we can identify any needs or concerns early, there is a higher chance of success.”

Children who do not pass the screening are referred to the district’s Child Find team for further screening and/or evaluation in the identified area(s) of concern.  

“If children are identified with special needs, early intervention services can start as early as birth, but for preschool age children, school-based intervention may start at age 3. Preschool is definitely a way for us to help those students gain skills they will need for their future academic career,” Venable said.

“We want to make sure we are providing those services to kids and families as early as possible, rather than having them wait,” Powell said.

As far as what parents can expect at a screening, there is a little bit of paperwork and a discussion with the staff, but for the kids, it’s easy. 

“The kids have no idea it’s a screening. We just tell them, ‘we want to see how big your brain is and see all the fun things you can do,’” Venable said. “We do a large group activity first, with all of the kids at one time. Then the kids separate out, and it’s one-on-one with a staff member for different activities or tasks. At the end, the kids play together again, and we observe their peer interactions.” 

The Early Childhood staff members then meet with the parent(s) to discuss the screening and any next steps or to provide resources. 

“We remind them that the range of normal is huge,” Venable said. “We understand the screening is just a snapshot, which could be impacted by whether the kid is having a good day or a bad day. If a child is not referred to the Child Find team, and the parents continue to have concerns, they can schedule a follow-up screening again in six months.” 

“One of the things I like about the screenings is that we get to meet the parents,” Venable said. “It lets them know we are the people who will be working with their children and that we want to get to know them, to build that foundational relationship. We are their first face into education. We are their child’s first formal teachers. Sometimes it’s hard for parents to let go of their babies into the school system. We want to make that as seamless and comfortable as possible, and we want their children to succeed.” 

The next screening days are Friday, Feb. 23 and Friday, April 5.

For more information about preschool, applications or to schedule a developmental screening, check out the preschool page on the D49 Early Childhood Education web page at www.d49.org/preschool