Joplin School District offering Little Eagles Flight School for preschool education

May 18—Without missing a beat, Joplin preschool student Skylar England flipped over when her teacher called out for tummy time.

She kicked her feet in the air and kept solving a jigsaw puzzle, even when her neighbor tried to swipe one of her pieces.

It wasn't only recreation for students at the Joplin Early Childhood class on Tuesday — these children also were strengthening their core during tummy time, and learning socialization and problem solving.

The Joplin School District is looking to expand on these kinds of early childhood lessons with a pilot program called Little Eagles Flight School.

It will open this fall in three neighborhood schools.

"We wanted to drive home the idea that we're taking our littlest Eagles and getting them ready to fly," said Jordan Dickey, executive director of student services for the Joplin School District, referring to the name. "If kindergarten readiness goes up, their chances of success throughout their K-12 education increases."

Dickey said the district has been working on plans to expand its early childhood options. The early childhood building on McClelland Boulevard is at capacity, so these new preschool programs will open in Irving, Soaring Heights and Royal Heights elementary schools.

"Right now, the answer is moving out of this building and into the neighborhoods where it's low barrier, easy access for families, matches their work schedule and affordable," Dickey said. "It works with their whole family and the kids are getting a quality experience."

In the initial year of the program, it will be open to families in the three school neighborhoods. If families are outside and interested, Dickey encourages them to put their name on the list just in case.

The preschool classes will be available to all eligible students for free during the pilot year of the program.

Child care desert

The new neighborhood-based preschool classrooms will address two main issues the district has identified.

—First, there is the child care desert designation that has been given to Jasper County by the state. This designation is based on a ratio of the children of preschool age and the number of child care facilities in the area.

A child care desert translates into lack of availability and a lack of affordable child care, especially when it comes to licensed facilities and programs, Dickey said. She has a 4-year-old and knows that it's hard to find an open spot for child care here.

—Second, the program will address a lack of early childhood learning in the area.

"At Joplin schools, one in two of our kindergartners are coming to us with no early learning experience," Dickey said. "So we're hoping to expand our offerings of what Joplin has, in addition to everything else that's available in the community."

Little Eagles Flight School is a full-day program. Dickey said it will be helpful for working families.

"This is something that would match the elementary school day experience," Dickey said. "If they live within the zone, they're eligible for busing to and from school. It's an offering for that year before kindergarten, and it's a year before kindergarten."

Students will get free breakfast and have access to lunch. If they qualify for free and reduced lunch, they'll get that as well.

There's been a great response so far, Dickey said. They opened the program first to staff members with young children in each of the three school zones, then to parents with children in the neighborhood schools. Now it has been opened to the public, and there have been many more enrollments.

Students enrolling need to be 4 years old by Aug. 1. They will go through a screening experience to identify early learning delays and potentially change their learning track.

Enrollment instructions are available at Interested families are encouraged to begin the pre-enrollment process soon, as spaces are limited. For more information, contact Joplin Early Childhood at 417-625-5275.