Ruthven-Ayrshire Finds Long-term Success With Preschool
RUTHVEN – With Iowa Governor Chet Culver renewing focus on early childhood education, one Palo Alto County school district is ahead of the trend, and has been for nearly 15 years.
The Ruthven-Ayrshire Community School District first opened its preschool in 1994, and this is the second year for a combined classroom of mainstream and special education students. By all accounts, the established program is going well and has become a much-valued offering in the local community.
“We’ve been filling a need of the Ruthven-Ayrshire community with the creation of the preschool,” said Erv Rowlands, Ruthven-Ayrshire Community School District Superintendent. “There’s a shortage of local daycares, like in many other small towns. We do have some people who do private daycare in their home, but there aren’t any private preschools.”
The majority of youngsters enrolled in the preschool program come from the Ruthven and Ayrshire communities with a few traveling from the Dickens area on occasion.
Rowlands explained that the district first looked at starting a preschool in 1992.
“Our research showed that a preschool education is extremely important,” said Rowlands. “Getting students off to a good start early has a lot of carry-over for their entire school career. Since we started the program 15 years ago, we’ve seen a decline in the number of students enrolled in special education.”
Ruthven-Ayrshire’s preschool teacher, Christy Piercy, is a certified early childhood special education instructor. Four aides assist Piercy in the classroom. The preschool program is for boys and girls ages 4 and 5. Some three-year old special needs children join the class, as well.
Class is in session Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Ruthven-Ayrshire School building. This year, 22 youngsters are enrolled. The children are split into two groups and meet in two separate classrooms.
“Splitting the kids up works really well,” said Christy Piercy, preschool teacher. “It’s nice to have the two classrooms.”
Each day promises a different theme for the children to learn about, such as transportation, fire safety, and seasonal subjects, like pumpkins. The students learn about pre-academic subjects such as the “letter of the week,” work on art projects, and participate in social skills building activities, which teach them how to get along with others. Every day, there is a different “special” class like computers, gym, music, and library time.
“We try to do a variety of large and small group activities, as well as playtime,” said Piercy.
The preschool setting also presents the chance for Area Education Agency (AEA) professionals–speech and language pathologists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists–to observe and meet with the children. Visits from the AEA staff are focused on providing extra help to youngsters who may be needing those specialized services.
While Gov. Culver signed legislation in May 2007 to provide funding to make preschool free to nearly all Iowa four-year olds, that funding only applies to private and church-operated programs, not preschools run by area school districts. State funding was opened to school districts in 2008, on a competitive basis with priority given to high-poverty districts.
According to Rowlands, Ruthven-Ayrshire’s program is funded in three ways. A portion of funding comes from Palo Alto/Kossuth Counties (PAK) Empowerment. Those dollars go to low-income families of preschoolers for tuition assistance. In addition, preschool parents pay a fee, and the school district also supports the preschool with funding.
“Our preschool program is so valuable to us that, although we don’t receive state funding, we will continue to work hard to ensure that the program continues,” said Rowlands. “We feel it’s been a very successful program for our kids, and that it will save us money in the long run.”