Sen. Casey ready to learn about Pottstown’s early education efforts

By Evan Brandt, Pottstown Mercury

POTTSTOWN -- Freshman U.S. Senator Robert Casey will be in Pottstown Aug. 28 while on a tour of the commonwealth’s early education efforts.

Casey will first visit the Montgomery Early Learning Center in Emmanuel Lutheran Church and then go to the Pottstown School District’s Administration Building for a press conference on early education, said Jeff Sparagana, the district’s director of education.

Casey will have a lot to absorb in Pottstown, which just received word that it has received a state grant for $785,000 a year for the next three years.

The money will provide $7,900 per child per year for 100 children and will be used to pay for pre-kindergarten education.

Sparagana said the money comes out of $75 million built into Gov. Ed Rendell’s education budget “which is a tremendous victory for Pennsylvania.”

The grant was pursued by the Pottstown Early Action for Kindergarten Readiness, often referred to as PEAK and is provided through a state program called Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts, Sparagana told the Pottstown School Board Thursday.

When combined with money funded through existing state grants “and an anonymous donor,” Pottstown will have “over $1 million for early education in the community next year,” Sparagana said.

Begun in 2005, PEAK is designed to build partnerships between the public schools and private early education providers to ensure consistency and that children would enter Pottstown’s kindergarten program ready to learn.

The program has five main areas of focus, recruitment and tracking, family engagement, community outreach, quality improvement and kindergarten transition.

A community survey conducted by the program found a low percentage of pre-school aged children enrolled in early learning programs and little awareness of the impact such an experience has on a child’s later learning experience.

Goals include providing access to early education for every 3- and 4-year-old child in Pottstown and access for their parents to programs which help them build their parenting skills and to prepare their children for school.

The grant money Sparagana outlined will make the achievement of those goals that much easier, he said.

Partners include the Pottstown Public Library, Pottstown Family YMCA and the YWCA of the Tri-County Area, the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation, Montgomery County Head-Start and the Pottstown Family Center.

To learn more about the program, visit the PEAK Web site at www.peakonline.org or e-mail PEAK Coordinator Mary Rieck at mrieck@pottstownsd.org or call 610-970-6655.