LPS early childhood programs extend reach with new classrooms
Counting numbers, following directions and being respectful to friends are all important skills for young children to learn.
Now more of Lincoln’s littlest learners will have those opportunities after the expansion of early childhood programming within Lincoln Public Schools.
LPS grew its early childhood offerings over the past two years. The school district added a total of six new classrooms at Robinson Elementary School, Northwest High School and Standing Bear High School.
River, 3, joined his classmates for activities on his first day of preschool at Standing Bear as LPS kicked off the new school year on Aug. 17. He beamed as he played with a set of colorful toys on a small table. His mother Bridget said he was in a happy mood when she dropped him off at the new facility.
“He was talking about it all morning,” Bridget said with a smile. “He wanted to talk with his friends.”
Bridget said she was thrilled when she learned Standing Bear would have a facility. She would have enrolled River in preschool classes at other LPS sites if Standing Bear was not available, but it would have meant a drive of at least ten minutes. She can now drop off and pick up her son from classes in two minutes.
Lincoln voters approved the expansion of early childhood programming as part of a $290 million bond issue in 2020. LPS now has 77 classrooms at 31 schools. The school district plans to use approximately $10 million of the bond for early childhood facilities.
LPS teacher Sarah Jumnongnart said she was looking forward to helping students like River at Standing Bear. She said the features of her two new classrooms would make a difference for both students and teachers.
Large windows provide natural light in each room, and shelves are low enough for children to easily access toys, books and school supplies. A carpet in the front room includes letters of the alphabet in multi-colored blocks, numbers in puffy white-and-blue clouds and a bright sun in the middle. There are also bathrooms, sinks, reading chairs, stuffed animals and a fenced-in playground area for students.
“Those small details have been very beneficial,” Jumnongnart said.
LPS Early Childhood Director Cara Lucas-Richt said the extra classrooms are arriving at a good time for the district. She said the LPS early childhood program experienced a 29-percent jump in enrollment from mid-August to May of the 2022-23 school year. There were 1,376 students in preschool classes.
Those healthy numbers coincide with the overall population growth of Lincoln. The U.S. Census Bureau’s population estimate for Lincoln in July 2022 was 292,000. The city had 269,000 people in 2013.
LPS early childhood programs are free of charge and are staffed by certified teachers.
The school district also offers a comprehensive list of early childhood services for children with special needs including physical and occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists.
Lucas-Richt said the quality research-based curriculum gives students a head start in their academic, social and behavioral pursuits.
“We find kids who have this experience have a smoother transition to kindergarten,” Lucas-Richt said.
The goal of the LPS early childhood programs is to provide a positive launching pad for all students. Bridget said that seemed to be the case for River as he talked and played with his friends.
“It sounds like the kids are having fun over there,” Bridget said. “I’m happy about that.”
Lincoln Board of Education members and LPS leaders are also studying a proposal that would add seven early childhood classrooms at six elementary schools – Arnold, Fredstrom, Humann, Huntington, Kooser and Roper – in future years. If the board approves the plan, there would be space for 520 extra students. The 2020 bond would also fund the proposed construction.
To learn more about early childhood programming at LPS, visit https://home.lps.org/earlychildhood/.
Published: August 25, 2023, Updated: August 25, 2023