Education / News

Pre-K enrollment at 50 percent in Hunts Point

Citizens Committee for Children of New York

Citizens Committee for Children of New York 2015 Community Risk Ranking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunts Point and Longwood have the lowest enrollment in pre-kindergarten classes of any neighborhood in the five boroughs, despite having the greatest need to reverse historically low education rates.

Only half of pre-K slots are filled here, according to Citizen’s Committee for Children’s 2015 community risk ranking. In a neighborhood where the high school graduation rate is below 33 percent and less than 35 percent of students pass math and reading tests, experts recommend that children begin their education early, to help transform these abysmal statistics.

The universal pre-K program started last year by Mayor de Blasio was lauded as a way to level the playing field among rich and poor children in terms of educational opportunity. But while Manhattan’s Upper West Side sends 93 percent of its preschool-aged children to early education programs and Crown Heights in Brooklyn sends 73 percent, just 49 percent of Hunts Point children are enrolled in pre-K. At PS 48 on Spofford Avenue, more than three dozen pre-K seats are empty.

The reasons why have eluded local education leaders.

“We’ve tried a little bit of everything [to get students enrolled],” said Jessica Trujillo, the director of Early Childhood Programs for the Hunts Point Alliance for Children. “To me, the best strategy is to hit the ground and find out why. Is it lack of info? Fear? Or that families are new to the community?”

Hunts Point has some of the highest rates of homeless children — 30 to 40 percent, according to The Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness. Trujillo notes that the high number of students coming from shelters could likely be a contributor to low enrollment. “The community itself is one of flux,” says Trujillo. “Immigrants, undocumented families and families in shelters may play a role in under-enrollment.”

She suspects that homeless families may not want to enroll their children in a community school if they feel their stay in Hunts Point may be temporary.

Another obstacle is the shelters’ main priority to keep their clients safe, which can prohibit outside organizations from reaching the homeless population. HPAC relies on shelter staff to pass along information regarding pre-K options when they cannot tell parents directly. “We go as far as we can go, but shelters are the most challenging,” says Trujillo.

Another hypothesis is that Hunts Point and Longwood families are simply unaware of their options. Whether there is a language barrier for those that are new to the country, or families are new to the state or the borough, parents may lack the information about where their kids can attend school, or how to enroll.

Or possibly, said Trujillo, Hunts Point and Longwood families may prefer to keep their little ones at home longer.

“We’ve been scanning the neighborhood and putting up flyers to get the word out,” said Roxanne Cardona, the principal of PS 48.

PS 48 can accept new students at any time throughout the school year. The school currently has 42 open pre-K seats out of 108 for students who turn 4 by Dec. 31.

Cardona is unsure why enrollment lags so far behind other New York City areas, but wants to see that number reversed. With 39 percent of pre-K seats empty at PS 48, city funding for the program could be reduced if demand is too low. “It’s a real concern,” she said.

Hunts Point resident Jasmine Grant says she will definitely send her 2-year-old daughter, Jayla, to pre-K when she is eligible next year.

“Pre-K is always beneficial. It keeps them busy, plus they’re learning in the process,” says Grant. “It also gives them more independence. And I get more free time.”

Unlike PS 48, La Peninsula, a Head Start preschool on Spofford Avenue that is free for children from ages 3 to 5, has a waiting list. But the program there starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. Public pre-K runs from 8 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. For working parents, the program’s extra 3 hours, 40 minutes might make the difference. La Peninsula’s waiting list is another confusing aspect of Hunts Point’s low enrollment. Parents are choosing to wait-list their pre-schoolers at this school instead of sending them down the street to PS 48, which has the capacity to enroll them.

The benefits of starting a child’s education before kindergarten are well established. Study after study has shown that poor children who attend pre-K can reduce the achievement gap between themselves and their peers from higher income families by starting their education before kindergarten. The Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness notes that the gap only gets wider as children age, especially if they have not been exposed to pre-K. The organization also concluded that consistent early education can help homeless students thwart the developmental delays homelessness generates.

“Fundamentally, pre-K begins the building blocks of a lifetime of learning,” says Trujillo. “Children learn how to socialize; within our culture we put a lot of value on that because of our complex society. They learn to embrace likenesses and differences when they are exposed to them.”

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