For the last 20 years, Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning has funded preschool for hundreds of thousands of children. For this school year alone, they will serve about 84,000 students in 1,200 schools statewide, with nearly 15,000 children at 89 schools here in Cobb.
Susan Adams, the assistant commissioner for Georgia Pre-K, said, “There is a large volume of research that supports early brain development.”
While parents and guardians aren’t required to enroll a child in a public or private preschool, Adams recommends parents look into some type of education programs during the early years.
“A preschool program is shown to have lasting impacts on a child’s developments,” she said.
This year also marks the fourth year that the state will work with Kennesaw State University’s Confucius Institute to teach Mandarin at area preschools, including West Cobb Prep Academy in Marietta and Ivy Hall Day School in Kennesaw.
“Mandarin is the largest, most lively spoken language in the world, and as we look at the future in our children, we need to acknowledge that, especially as we look at jobs in business and technology,” said Adams, who visited China in mid-June with DECAL Commissioner Bobby Cagle to expand the partnership with the institute and meet the 38 teachers who will be teaching in Georgia this school year.
Within the programs, children are taught the Mandarin language and study the philosophies and cultures of the Chinese.
Adams said it’s important to introduce new languages to young children because their brains are best wired to learn a second language between the ages of 2 and 5.
“It’s much easier for a child to learn a second language than an adult. It’s also easier for them to pronounce the words,” she said. “Even if a child learns a language young and then doesn’t continue the instruction, when they are older, it’s much easier to pick up that language or continue it.”
The two preschools in Cobb have taught Mandarin to students for the last three years, and Project Director Shonte Miles with West Cobb Prep said that of their 154 Georgia Pre-K students, 66 are participating in the language program.
“It’s a great experience, especially introducing a new culture to the students, and they have caught on very well,” Miles said.
She said three Mandarin teachers work with three American teachers on a daily basis, incorporating the Chinese culture and language into their schedules.
The students in the Mandarin classes are picked through a lottery selection.
“A lot of parents are hesitant at first, especially the English language learners, but after the children get acclimated, they love it,” Miles said.
Ken Jin, the director of the KSU Confucius Institute, said it was opened in 2008 and since that time, they have worked with the Cobb community and state department to incorporate the Mandarin language and Chinese culture into schools.
“We want to really prepare our students for the global economy and challenges,” he said.
The institute in Cobb is one of three in Georgia and one of 80 nationally but the only one that works closely with a state department to teach language programs to grade school children, Jin said.
“We’d like to develop our Chinese language education from Pre-K to high school,” he said. “It will give them a huge advantage when they grow up and join the labor force.”
The language classes are also offered at the middle and high school levels. Last year they introduced it to Awtrey Middle and North Cobb High and this year, they also hired teachers at Tapp Middle and Sprayberry High.
Jin said the class is similar to a student taking a French or Spanish class at the middle or high school level, but they also host cultural events throughout the school year for families that include a Chinese calligraphy class. During the summer, they host the Chinese Bridge Program, where young people travel to China for two weeks to learn the language, culture and arts of China.
The teachers brought to the U.S. for the 2012-13 school year have also been placed at preschools in Flowery Branch and Dalton, and 25 teachers will work in Bibb County Schools with students in Pre-K through third grade.
The Pre-K grant allots around $12,600 for an assistant teacher, and additional salary funds come from individual preschools or school districts. KSU uses Confucius grants to pay cost-of-living expenses.
In order to participate in the Georgia Pre-K program, a child must be at least 4 and live in Georgia.
The Georgia Lottery has funded it for the last 19 years. Last year the program cost about $300 million to run.
Two years ago, Gov. Nathan Deal approved cutting around $54 million in funds to the Georgia Pre-K program but Adams said they are trying to reallocate those funds and so far have added back 10 days to initial 20 that were cut from the 180-day calendar.
Childcare centers with licensed capacity for 22 children, local school systems, charter schools and other public institutions are eligible to apply for slots with the Georgia Pre-K program annually.
For more information or to find a Georgia Pre-K program, visit the state’s website at www.decal.ga.gov.