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Syracuse City School District Opens New Opportunities for Pre-K



            SYRACUSE, NY-- Fall is here and Syracusans can once again welcome the colorful foliage of Upstate New York. It’s a transition worth celebrating; as the year continues to pass by, nature shows us an illustration of change. While the leaves catch our eyes, one should also notice the changes our community strives to make.


The Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse (ACTS) considers education to be a crucial pillar in the fight for social justice. To positively transform Syracuse we must expand early childhood education. After all, tomorrow’s future will be in the hands of today’s students. This is what drives the ACTS “Pre-Kindergarten Expansion Task Force.” Relying on a variety of strategies and resources, its current mission is to ensure the inclusion of all Syracuse four-year-olds in high quality full-day Pre-K.


In this spirit, ACTS congratulates the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) for accomplishing a step toward this goal. In September the district opened 350 additional Pre-K classrooms slots for three and four-year-old children. These students can now experience the hands-on learning opportunity so imperative to early cognitive development. The expansion was secured using a $3.2 million state-funded grant, an amount allocated to Syracuse due to its high-need, socio-economic status and hefty student base.


Despite its magnitude, the multi-million dollar grant is only a fraction of the total awards conferred by the state for this school year. Across New York, $30 million was distributed amongst 34 school districts for the purpose of broadening pre-school class sizes. These funds were initially drawn from the 2015 Opportunity Agenda, an investment Governor Cuomo hopes will return in the form of bright futures. This gesture has certainly begun to fulfill intentions: 3,295 children statewide can now benefit from a head-start where they wouldn’t have before.


In relation to this total, Syracuse received a tenth of the $30 million pie, and was the third highest recipient in the state (behind Rochester and Brentwood). Let’s reflect: over $3 million in additional Pre-K funding is no small slice, and 350 children is no insignificant number. To be sure, it’s wonderful news for the 2015 school year. ACTS is honored to have partnered with, and supported the SCSD in pursuing this, as it will achieve auspicious results in the future of Syracuse youth.


Children with early starts in the mental “sculpting” process are likelier to achieve academic success and huge confidence boosts. Pre-K also helps close the gap between children of different socio-economic means. Countless research studies administered by major universities support this wisdom, with little evidence suggesting otherwise.


A 2009 study published by the University of Virginia followed roughly two thousand four-year-olds in 453 classrooms. The researchers found that pre-k enrollees demonstrated higher comprehension in key skills such as language, reading, and communication competence. Additionally, they found that pre-schooled children were more receptive to future learning material as a result of exposure to quality teaching environments.


A second study designed by Georgetown University analyzed the effects of Oklahoma’s universal Pre-K on its students. The study tracked demographic details of the children’s families. Researchers concluded that children from vulnerable neighborhoods benefitted the most from enthusiastic attention by educators. Pre-k children of impoverished status scored higher than their non-pre-k peers in important categories, such as language, thinking skills, and motor coordination. In other words, gains were observed across the board. The implications of this are critical for our city. Recently, there was an article on which detailed an alarming fact: one of every two Syracuse children lives in poverty. Impoverishment, a sickness afflicting our community, exists partly because adequate education has yet to be provided.


Supporting early education opportunities is a clear choice, and ACTS is committed to fighting for every child who has this fundamental need unmet. One of our underlying beliefs is that advocacy can bring about the structural change necessary for dismantling systems of poverty and oppression. Denial of equal educational opportunities locks children into stagnation, coercing the disenfranchised to remain so. In this sense, we congratulate the SCSD for their dedication in improving the outlook for so many students this year.


However, we must look at the broader picture. The grant that SCSD used to open these 350 new Pre-K slots is the derivative of a New York State program that must be competed for on a yearly basis. That $30 million pie mentioned earlier is a morsel that schools like SCSD are forced to claw for. Instead, it should be a staple meal in the State Budget.


Our call to action is simple. Syracuse, and all other cities in need of transformation, let’s insist on permanent, reliable Pre-K funding. While not all children can be guaranteed success, every child should be given the opportunity to find it. By providing these possibilities we are planting seeds for the future. One day, they could become trees as vivid as a Syracuse Autumn.            


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