Initiative makes preschool available to more children

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SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah – About 600 children who wouldn’t have had the chance to go to preschool are now enrolled as a result of a new initiative in Salt Lake County.

Ben McAdams, Salt Lake County mayor, put forth a new initiative in July to help low-income families afford preschool for their children, and the county council gave the program a green light.

Classroom 206 at Wright Elementary School is now filled with many children who had been on a waiting list for a year. Brenda Van Gorder is the director of preschool services for the Granite School District, and she said the program has helped many people.

“Their parents let us know this was the school where we needed to put some of that county money to good use, and the children were able to get in to preschool this year,” she said.

Education advocates have said a child’s brain does the majority of its growing before the child reaches the age of 5. Karen Crompton of Voices for Utah Children said it’s important for kids to get an early start.

“Kids who start behind stay behind,” she said. “Kids who aren’t reading on grade level by third grade are more likely to drop out of high school.”

Van Gorder said the program is an investment in the future.

“What we need to do is invest in these kids, give them an opportunity,” she said. “It’s not an achievement gap. These children all have the capability to do really well in school. What they've had is an opportunity gap. High quality preschool costs money, and while all these families chose to have their kids enrolled in preschool, they weren’t able to afford that.”