WHEELING - Preschool creates many learning opportunities, allowing children to develop "those all important collaboration and communication skills" that will enable them to be better prepared for future challenges, Ohio County Student Services Director MaryLu Hutchins said.
Hutchins believes Ohio County School's Universal Preschool program establishes the foundation students need for future education and life-long skills. She said the 3- and 4-year-old county program continues to serve as a model program within West Virginia.
"When children enter school, it's very important that they have solid relationships with other children so that they can explore their interests together ... and the preschool environment creates the opportunity for them to converse and develop vocabulary skills, language skills and learn the give and take that is involved in effective communication.
Elm Grove Elementary preschoolers, Mahea Vares, right, and Jason McCormick enjoy spending time on computers available in the Universal PreSchool Program.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
"Our preschool classes in Ohio County are designed to really help children love the school environment," Hutchins said.
Hutchins said the county program has been so successful over the years that it has now expanded to 17 classrooms since its inception in 2002. The program currently serves more than 300 students and their families.
Hutchins said the program is designed to meet individual social, cognitive, linguistic, emotional, cultural and physical needs.
"All of the classrooms are exploratory based so that the children have the options to choose from multiple activities," Hutchins noted.
She said it is vital for children to develop those "all important collaboration and communication skills" that will enable them to be better prepared for future challenges.
"When you're working with young learners they have no fear of trying or learning new things," Hutchins commented.
She said all Ohio County preschool classes are equipped with computers andSmartboards, which allows each student to become acclimated to technology.
"So the students actually interact with their learning skills in electronic formats and they do that collaboratively with their teachers and their peers," Hutchins said.
"It absolutely makes a difference that they have a foundation at this point in time. ... It's all of the components. It's the social component. It's the cognitive component. It's the physical component, because they are learning to manipulate things and therefore they come to feel very self-capable and self regulating and they direct their learning to the areas they have strengths with.
"And because they are using their strengths, they are able to absorb much more," she added.
Ohio County Schools offers supplemental services including speech, language and occupational and physical therapy for eligible students.
Their Universal Pre-K sites are established in collaboration with local preschool agencies and Northern Panhandle Head Start.