Prekindergarten classes hosted by Bulloch County Schools are also set to begin Aug. 17, and parents of children already in the program also have options, although not exactly the same options that were provided for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Georgia’s lottery-funded prekindergarten program is administered by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, or DECAL, which also identifies itself by the slogan “Bright from the Start.” This department operates separately from the Georgia Department of Education and tax-funded K-12 public education.
So, when the Bulloch County Board of Education gave parents of students from kindergarten through high school a choice of traditional instruction or virtual instruction for returning to school in this pandemic year, those options did not cover prekindergarten. Instead, DECAL originally offered three options for Pre-K, explained Teresa Phillips, Bulloch County Schools assistant superintendent for school improvement.
One of those options was simply traditional, or face-to-face, classes. Another was “full distance” learning, with local Pre-K teachers to provide online activities for children and additional resources to their families. The third way originally offered statewide was a “hybrid” approach, in which children would alternate in attending traditional classes some days of the week and receiving virtual instruction on other days, or alternate for parts of each class day.
However, the choices were not to be made at the level of each individual child, but for each whole class of up to 22 children.
“That approach did not meet the needs of our Pre-K families, so we submitted a different proposal to Bright from the Start that would allow us to deliver face-to-face instruction as well as virtual instruction for the families that were interested,” Phillips said in an email.
With the whole-class options originally offered, if fewer than about 22 students were designated for virtual instruction, they may have been excluded. Likewise, a virtual class would have needed to be an entire group of that size.
“If we were to abide by the state's original plan, we could have some students displaced from the class of 22 students if it was not the model of choice for their family,” Phillips wrote. “That is why we proposed a new model to the state.”
Blended option approved
So the Bulloch County Schools proposed a “blended” option, in which teachers will teach face-to-face students while also including small-group and independent learning activities for virtual students in each day’s experiences.
“All of this will occur during the school day,” Phillips said. “Therefore, Pre-K students will be required to be online during designated times throughout the school day.”
This virtual or “distance” method for prekindergarten does not involve a pre-packaged course in a platform like SchoolsPLP, which the Bulloch County Schools plan to use for kindergarten through fifth grade.
As Phillips noted, the original full-distance, whole class option would not have used a pre-packaged course platform, either.
Bright from the Start recently approved the proposal from Bulloch County Schools, so the prekindergarten classes they host are set to begin Aug. 17 at all sites, and families should be receiving orientation information from Pre-K teachers.
“If parents have not been contacted, they can reach out to their child's zoned school for further assistance,” Phillips wrote.
Not the only host
The Bulloch County school system is the largest single host organization for Pre-K in the county, with classes on 11 campuses for about 440 children, but a number of day care centers and independent schools also host prekindergarten classes.
All nine Bulloch County public elementary schools host prekindergarten classes, and Southeast Bulloch High School and Statesboro High School each host one Pre-K class, which also serves as a learning lab for high school students in the Teaching as a Profession career pathway.
Unlike kindergarten through high school public education, prekindergarten is not guaranteed to all children, and a limited number of seats is assigned to each site. Bulloch County Schools held Pre-K registration for the 2020-21 school year in February and March and awarded seats by lottery.
The program mainly serves children who are 4 years old on or before Sept. 1 of the school year.