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Free Pre-K education program pushes forward despite teacher shortages, pandemic

Free Pre-K education program pushes forward despite teacher shortages, pandemic
Posted at 6:17 PM, Sep 23, 2022

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A new report shows thousands of children in Pima County are in need of high quality Pre-K education. The Pima Early Education Program is here to help, but teacher shortages are getting in the way.

Early education can be costly in Pima County.

“It can range from $150 to almost $800 a month,” said Robert Espinosa, parent of PEEPS student.

Most low-income families would rather school their four-year-olds at home.

“I probably would’ve waited until kindergarten to be honest to get him into school,” Espinosa said.

But the Pima Early Education Program, also known as PEEPS, has made high quality preschools more affordable, and accessible. The program enrolled 856 children last year, many of whom wouldn't have gone to preschool.

“They get away from their families in a nice, safe, high quality environment where they’re able to explore, socialize with people their age, learn new skills at their ability level,” said Jessica Jankowski-Gallo, lead teacher at Emily Meschter Early Learning Center.

“His way of expression, he seems to be able to harness his emotions a little bit more,” Espinosa said.

Last year’s enrollment fell short of the goal to enroll 1,200 students. Also, only 66% of potential preschools participated. The program manager says this is a result parents’ hesitancy to enroll their child during the pandemic and teacher shortages.

"Through conversations with some of our district partners they haven’t be able to fully enroll because of those teacher shortages,” said Nicole Scott, PEEPS Manager.

Despite this, PEEPS has the same goal of serving 1,200 students this next year. Scott hopes the program can exceed that number.

“I think this year is going to be a much bigger success than the first year," Scott said. "We’re already seeing higher enrollments in some of our PEEPS classes, they’re almost at full capacity in some of them.”

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