Pre-K program expands at Donna schools

In hopes of helping students read at an earlier age, the Donna school district has expanded its free, full-day pre-K program to include children who are 3-years-old.

The district currently offers the same for 4-year-olds, a program dubbed Pre-K 4, across its 14 elementary schools. Pre-K 4 was among one of Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez’s first major moves since taking the position in 2018.

The Pre-K 3 expansion will incorporate about half the district’s elementary campuses for the upcoming 2019-20 school year.

Seven elementary campuses — Rivas, LeNoir, Garza, Adame, Salinas, Stainke and Guzman — are the sites where the new program has been implemented. The majority of them act as a host school for students outside their zone, according to the district website.

Everyone is encouraged to enroll in the program, with as many as 300 kids already expected to enroll, he said.

“We believe that early childhood education is really the key to set up the student for success,” Azaiez said.

The curriculum for these programs is designed to consider the brain development of children 3 and 4 years of age, he said.

The program emphasizes basic reading skills by encouraging students to familiarize themselves with sounds, recognition of letters and exposition starting at 3 years old.

“As they move from one grade to another, they get better and better. So by second grade, the goal is for them to be reading on or above grade level,” Azaiez said.

Teachers need to be certified to teach in a bilingual environment for early childhood, and training is provided to instruct these young children.

The superintendent added that school district officials hope the programs will allow students the opportunity to start learning early with “somebody (who is) certified and highly qualified in early childhood education, so they can teach the kids how to read and also the social [and emotional] skills.

McKenzie Bruner-Rodriguez recently moved to the Rio Grande Valley from Oklahoma and plans to enroll her child into the program. Bruner-Rodriguez said enrolling her child in the program will help him transition into kindergarten.

The program will also provide structure throughout the day, as well as time to interact with other children in his age group, she added.

“Education is crucial to any community to be strong and strive,” she said, believing that early education is an initiative that will facilitate such growth.

Getting students to read early will impact their direction in life and place them at a good spot, Azaiez said.

“That will set them apart from the rest of students or kids in the area, and actually in the state of Texas,” the superintendent further noted. “We want to set them apart and we want to give them as much a head start as possible, and set them up for success.”