Pre-K in Saint Louis Public Schools: The Lasting Benefits of Early Childhood Education

Since 2013, the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation has invested over $600,000 annually in early childhood education (ECE). The research is clear: providing quality opportunities to children ages 0-5 has a lifetime of benefits. For example, children who attend quality ECE programs perform better in school and are more likely to graduate from high school. The Saint Louis Public School (SLPS) district values this research and has expanded its early childhood education program over the years to serve nearly 1,600 students in the 2021-2022 school year, thanks to the SLPS Foundation and supporters like you. Over the past 9 years, SLPS has significantly strengthened its Pre-K program by intensifying professional development for teachers, recruiting, and retaining high quality, certified ECE teachers, supporting literacy initiatives, and investing in curriculum resources and materials.

According to the U.S. Department of Education: “a student who can’t read by grade level by 3rd grade is four times less likely to graduate by age 19…add poverty to the mix, and a student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her proficient, wealthier peer.” The vision of the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation is a reality in which ALL students, regardless of race or income status, have access to excellent educational instruction and opportunities that prepare them for fulfilling futures. Therefore, our investment in ECE is essential to making this vision come true.

Early childhood education remains one of the SLPS Foundation’s strategic priorities. In the spring of 2021, the SLPS Foundation, in partnership with the District, completed a longitudinal study that tracked performance of Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) students ages three to five years over time, looking specifically at their performance on the STAR reading exam. The results revealed a lasting and significant impact on reading performance for students in SLPS.

Three- to five-year-old students who attended SLPS Pre-K outperformed the SLPS non-PreK students at each grade level. The graph below shows our Pre-k students that enrolled in 2011 scored 11.1 points higher than non-Pre-k students on the STAR reading assessment in 8th grade in 2020. This trend followed each class of pre-k class of students included in the study.

Dr. March, Director of Early Childhood Education shares “Pre-k is not a mandatory attendance grade, so we don’t receive specified funding from the state. The St. Louis Public School District goes over and beyond to fund and support the operation of the pre-kindergarten program because we wholeheartedly know how important it is to give students a strong academic start and foundation. The Foundation is an integral part of our program, and we are so thankful to have a partnership with them.”

The SLPS Foundation invests in a variety of programs and resources for early childhood education to bolster the impact on student success. Our investments during the 2021-2022 school year include a new Early Childhood Education Advisory Committee, expanding our successful Creative Literacy Spaces program, and supporting a new, unified curriculum resource. These investments are driven by the needs of SLPS students, and the voices of SLPS teachers. Creative Literacy Spaces inspire a love of reading for our youngest learners. These cozy corners and quiet reading spaces exist in over 90 early childhood classrooms in St. Louis Public Schools. Nearly 70% of teachers in the last cohort reported that all or some of their students have grown in their ability to responsively listen to books and stories and respond to questions since the beginning of the school year. Designed by classrooms teachers with accompanying professional development, this has been a successful program that we hope to continue expanding.

We are proud to present the findings of this study and will continue to invest in quality early childhood education to ensure that all SLPS PreK students are kindergarten ready. To learn more about our investments in ECE or to support our amazing PreK programs, contact Emily Zevely at ezevely@slpsfoundation.org.

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