About half of the Hillsboro district's schools offer early childhood education

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Abril Cortes rolls a block to a classmate at Reedville Elementary in Hillsboro, Ore., on Dec. 4, 2017Tiny Reedville Elementary School is making big waves across the Hillsboro School District.

The 95-year-old school isn't just home to 270 students from kindergarten on up. It was also recently named one of Oregon's best preschool programs, according to a new rating of the program released earlier this month.

Reedville Elementary School's preschool was awarded a five-star rating from the state, the highest awarded to preschools and childcare centers under Oregon's quality rating and improvement system.

Across Hillsboro School District, 16 schools offer some sort of preschool program. Eight offer full-day preschool programs for families. Others offer half-day or tuition-based models.

Nearly all of the preschools are run by outside agencies, such as Adelante Mujeres, Community Action Organization, Head Start and the Oregon Child Development Commission. Only Reedville's preschool is run by the district, said Principal Robin Farup-Romero.

Reedville's program started four years ago as a way to lend a hand to local families, said Farup-Romero, who came to the school in 2012.

"I felt we needed to prepare our students more," she said. "We needed to serve the community with the social and emotional learning experiences kids learn in preschool."

Reedville isn't alone. Witch Hazel, W.L. Henry, Lincoln Street and Quatama elementary schools, as well as South Meadows Middle School, have all received five-star ratings from the state for their preschool programs, according to The Research Institute at Western Oregon University, which performs the rankings.

The state rates preschools on the quality of their program and how well they align to state standards. This was the first year that Reedville's program has been evaluated by the state.

Farup-Romero said preschool can do wonders for kids before they are enrolled in kindergarten.

"Preschool helps develop their language and social skills," she said. "It gets them ready to come into kindergarten. They learn the routines. It's a very predictable way for them to start kindergarten. They get to eat lunch with the other kids and meet the staff."

National studies have suggested that, when done right, preschool can help students be successful later in life, particularly poor and bilingual students, which make up a large portion of Reedville's student body. Students who attended preschool are more likely to graduate from high school, have generally better test scores and are able to grasp soft skills, such as social and emotional development, better than their peers, according to research. Their literacy and math skills are improved before they begin kindergarten, which in turn helps with their success in school.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, students who can't read by the third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school and are more likely to live in poverty later in life.

Olga Acuña, the district's director of federal programs — which oversees preschools — said the Reedville program could also help with one of Hillsboro's most vexing problems: lowering the racial achievement gap.

"Our students of color are underperforming, compared to their white counterparts," Acuña said. "But maybe if we invest in them earlier and help prepare them for school, they have greater chances in life, and greater access and opportunities later on."

That has paid off at Reedville, Acuña said, where preschool attendees are performing better than others at the school who didn't enroll in the preschool.

"You can see the difference." Acuña said.

This year, the district included its preschool students into its student database, which will allow district officials to track how preschoolers do compared to other students, she said.

"I can't wait to see those preschoolers reach middle school and high school," she said. "I want to see how they do, compared to other students who haven't had that preschool experience."

Full-day preschool, like Reedville's, doesn't just offer benefits for students, Acuña said. Having young children in full-day classes allows parents to work, or attend school themselves, improving their quality of life.

"It's a win-win for everybody," Acuña said. "How many of our families are able to go back to work? Or back to school to continue to improve their skillsets? It advances our community's critical consciousness."

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Teacher assistant Silvia Barraza helps Annelise Luna at Reedville Elementary in Hillsboro, Ore., on Dec. 4, 2017Reedville is a predominantly Spanish-speaking school. According to Farup-Romero, more than one-third of Reedville's students come from migrant families. Reedville is one of a handful of dual-language schools in the district — where students are taught in a combination of English and Spanish.

"We want to do everything we can to ensure that students are engaging and learning and having academic success," she said. "We are really strongly looking at all of the avenues we can to do what we need to get there."

After voters approved a bond in November to build a handful of new schools across the district, Acuña said she expects those will also offer preschool programs for young students.

"We, as a community, are really beginning to embrace this as an idea," she said. "Everybody is seeing the connections between preschool and high school and college and career readiness."

Acuña said plans are in the works to bring preschools to more Hillsboro schools, including its high schools, within the next two years.

"We have opened the doors to a flood of knowledge and community wealth," Acuña said. "It's exciting to have 3- and 4-year-olds engaged in learning and reading and looking at their aspirations for the future."

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