By MARY NOBLES HANCOCK
In 1995 a group of Birmingham City Schools volunteer tutors from Mountain Brook realized a problem: The children they were tutoring were lacking the essential skills necessary for success. Wanting to give children a head start on a successful life, volunteers Bill Black and Jeannette Hancock created PreSchool Partners, a special preschool for at-risk children. The program targets children from the Norwood and Whatley communities and has always been supported by many in the Mountain Brook community.
“The most rewarding part of working at PreSchool Partners is that I feel like I am making a difference,” said teacher and Mountain Brook resident Angel Garrett. “We test the children at the very beginning of the school year and then again at the end. It is just amazing to see the progress they make.”
PreSchool Partners works to equip 70 children, ages three and four, each year with the skills necessary to begin kindergarten. In addition to teaching reading, numbers, shapes and colors, the program also focuses on general behavior, computer skills, music, art and dance.
In addition to preparing the children for school, the program helps their parents with essential life skills like stress and anger management, nutrition, child development, family literacy and money management. Families of students are asked to pay a nominal fee for the program, and weekly life skills meetings are mandatory.
“PreSchool Partners Monday meetings started out as a chore I had to do,” a parent in the program said. “But over the weeks, I have grown to love going on Mondays. I have made friends with teachers and parents. My child loves school and never wants to miss a day. We love doing homework and show and tell together. PreSchool Partners helps me have fun with my child.”
“PreSchool Partners has shown me the benefits of having an active relationship with my child’s school,” said another parent. “ I plan to continue this throughout the remainder of her educational development.”
Children who have graduated from the program have proven to be highly successful, with 60 percent of prior graduates being above grade level in school and consistently on the A and A/B honor roll. Its earliest graduates are just now graduating from high school, and one student has received a scholarship to Stillman College after graduating from Carver High School.
PreSchool Partners executive director and Mountain Brook resident Lella Carl said that in addition to education, students and parents receive vital health benefits.
“PreSchool Partners also provides vital health screenings for its students so that any deficiencies can be detected and corrected before the child begins kindergarten, thus removing any barriers to learning,” she said. “These screenings include vision, hearing, dental, and speech and language. We help the parents obtain the services needed to treat any problems found during the screenings.”
They also have a speech therapist on staff and assist parents in getting health insurance for their children.
PreSchool Partners is located at Trinity Presbyterian Church on Montevallo Road, but parent meetings are held at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church every Monday, just one of many connections the school has to the Mountain Brook community.
The executive director, the director of development and six of the teachers all live in Mountain Brook. There are also many Mountain Brook volunteers who support the program by tutoring students, reading to them, providing enrichment activities and providing snacks. Groups from Mountain Brook High School and the youth group at St. Luke’s have also worked with the program.
Carl said they hope to increase the expanse of the program. To serve more deserving families at the capacity of their current location, they are adding more students to the classroom. This year is a trial with a slightly higher student-to-teacher ratio.
“The demand for quality early education is quite high, and while there are some head start programs in Birmingham, there are not enough spots for every child to attend,” Carl said.
PreSchool Partners has also just finished a strategic plan determining the future goals of the program.
“Our vision is to build on our current success and reach more families in order to make a larger impact in their communities,” Carl said. “We want to continue to provide a quality preschool education for our students as well as continue to teach their parents the importance of being involved in their children’s education.”
“We couldn’t do what we do without the support of so many in the Mountain Brook community,” Carl concluded.
To find out more about the program or to donate, visit www.preschool-partners.org.