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Preschool Access Expanded in the Greater Richmond Area

The Virginia Early Learning Partners – A Henrico Education Foundation Extension – to offer hundreds of preschool spaces

by Robin R. Rowland 

When Tonya Evans took custody of her great grandchildren, she knew that raising a second family was not going to be easy. With a child in middle school and one in high school, Tonya easily navigated getting them registered. But when she tried to find school options for her 4-year-old granddaughter, she was met with a full preschool program at her elementary school.  Looking for options she reached out to local preschool programs only to find that the cost was out of reach.  How was she supposed to provide her great granddaughter with a quality preschool experience while living on a fixed income?  

“I was fortunate to be able to speak with a family liaison at Henrico County Public Schools and was referred to the Henrico Education Foundation for assistance,” Tonya said.  “ I had never heard of a public-private partnership for preschoolers before, but I was interested in learning more.”

Families that aren’t in Tonya’s situation, find that the cost of childcare is often out of reach for them as well, especially if they are looking for a quality preschool that uses a VDOE approved curriculum.  The cost of sending a 3- or 4-year-old to preschool averages $950 per month in the Greater Richmond Area and can exceed $1,200 a month in some programs.  

There is much research that supports the idea that 85% of a child’s brain development happens before the age of five.  That being the case, for children to be ready for kindergarten – a critical requirement for fluent reading by grade 3 – children must be exposed to early education in a loving and playful environment.  Preschool also helps children learn the social skills and structure that they will need to be successful in a school classroom.  

But in the Greater Richmond region, 45% of students start kindergarten without the skills needed to be successful, stemming from a lack of quality, affordable early learning programs.  

To address this overwhelming need, The Virginia Early Learning Partners, Henrico Education Foundation and Henrico County Public Schools launched a pilot program in 2019 that addressed each of the areas of support needed to close the access gap for parents.   

First, local childcare and preschool programs were engaged in building a network of sites that used a VDOE approved curriculum, who’s teachers were observed each year, and who used the same student assessments as the public schools.  This allowed for real data to be gathered about the success of the pilot.  In 2019 there were 3 programs able to accept funding under this program in Henrico County, today there are 45 in Richmond, Chesterfield and Henrico, with more ready very soon. 

The next step was securing the financial means to support student’s tuition in these programs.  Through a partnership with HCPS, the pilot was able to expand the number of students able to attend public preschool by having those students who’s elementary school is full, like Tonya, attend an approved community preschool program.  The funding to cover that cost coming from the school division. 

To date, we have eighty students placed this way, with the intention of doubling that for the 2022-2023 school year. 

Expanding access to quality preschool experiences has also been at the forefront of the educational work in Virginia for the last few years. This has allowed Virginia Early Learning Partners to receive a grant that has provided funding for 300 preschoolers in Henrico and Chesterfield Counties and the City of Richmond this school year.   We will be expanding that reach for the 2022-2023 school year and look forward to supporting as many as 500 students with one of these two exciting programs. 

When Tonya connected with the staff at Sowing Seeds Academy, she found what her great granddaughter needed to be fully ready for kindergarten.  Having a community partner that can help navigate the options for a family is critical to choosing what works best for everyone.     

The Virginia Early Learning Partner’s Mixed Delivery program and Community VPI program can be accessed at any of our partnership centers.   For more information and a list of sites, please reach out to Robin Rowland at: 

Photo: courtesy of Henrico Education Foundation 

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