Three- and 4-year-olds will be running around the modular classroom at Northfield Elementary for a full day starting next fall.
The Gering School Board of Education voted unanimously to expand the district's preschool offerings to Northfield Elementary at the Tuesday, March 30, meeting.
“In 2019, they developed a strategic plan by 2024 to have 50% of the early childhood kids in Gering be a part of the public school system,” GPS director of student services Byron Olsen said. “One of those objectives was to expand the preschool program to each elementary school.”
Currently, Gering Public Schools has one preschool program at Lincoln Elementary, where there are about 90 students in one full-day classroom and four half-day classrooms. Northfield does have a preschool located on its premises, but it is run entirely by ESU-13’s Head Start program. The preschool is located in the modular classroom outside the Northfield Elementary building and houses two classes for a total of 30 students.
The goal for next year is to make Northfield’s preschool similar to the partnership Lincoln has with Head Start. The preschool at Northfield next year will have an 18-spot full-day preschool classroom staffed by Northfield teachers in the modular classroom, but eligible students who attend the preschool will still have the opportunity to participate in the Head Start program.
“We have students that are Head Start eligible. Our Gering Public Schools teachers serve that education need, and they (Head Start) serve the social need for the home and family,” Olsen said.
Head Start director Donna Jenne said she looks forward to the growing partnership with the school district.
“This was a first-year partnership with Gering Public Schools,” she said. “We partnered at Lincoln this year, and we are excited to continue that partnership with their expansion at Northfield.”
Northfield principal John Wiedeman said the idea isn’t to take away from other area preschools and daycares, but to come alongside them and work together.
“We want to work within the community in a broader sense. We want to be part of the early childhood conversation, the early childhood provider pool, just so that our kids have access to quality early childhood education,” he said, “…not to take their business or to take their kids but really to come alongside them and make it a collaborative community wide effort.”
Wiedeman said they learned of the community’s needs through a survey of parents last year, helping make the decision for a full day program versus a half day one. They'll only be serving 18 students instead of the 30 Head Start currently has in the modular building.
“As we started talking to families and parents, that full day programming was really what they desired,” he said. “And that makes sense for care purposes before and after school. We want to be able to provide that.”
The main purpose of expanding preschool programming in the school district is to provide the community of Gering quality early education for its children. Of course, there are a few other perks that come with it.
“One of our main goals is to keep our students in Gering, and we thought what better place to start them then when they are brand new Bulldogs,” he said. “If we get our 3- and 4-year-olds in, by the time they’re in kindergarten, they could potentially be a third-year Bulldog, which would be pretty cool. And then obviously, long-term, we’d see them go through their senior year in high school.
“So, this has been a vision of ours for a long time.”
The school district hopes to expand preschool programming to its third and final elementary, Geil, in the near future as part of the strategic plan as well.