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Hillsborough County educators highlight importance of VPK programs for kids

Posted at 6:05 PM, Jun 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-21 18:05:32-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Educators say Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) enrollment dropped across the country due to the COVID-19 crisis. Teachers and educators in Hillsborough County are highlighting the importance of sticking with these programs so kids can get a jump start on school.

“If we do this right, by the time they get to third, fourth, and fifth grade, they’ll be reading, writing, and behaving in classrooms with proficiency,” said Amanda Osorio, the Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction for Early Childhood at Hillsborough County Public Schools.

Educators explain without VPK, kids could miss out on the transition to get ready for Kindergarten, learning routines and building social skills.

“As we get them into Pre-k and VPK, we get them ready to start that career in school,” said Sandra Show, the Supervisor of VPK for Hillsborough County Public Schools. “Learning how to listen to their teacher, to take directions, to follow directions, to sit and listen to a book and listen to a story, to be engaged in a science project, all those things that they haven’t done before if they haven’t been in a pre-school or childcare center.”

ABC Action News looked at the enrollment numbers for VPK programs in the Tampa Bay area. There were more than 300 students in Hillsborough County Public School VPK programs last summer, compared to about 700 students in the summer of 2019.

Their enrollment in VPK is up this summer from 2020 and they are still enrolling, but it is down from previous years.

“I probably get 10 to 15 phone calls a day from parents saying, ‘We had a voucher. We didn’t use it. Can we use it in the summer before they go to Kindergarten?’ Absolutely,” said Show.

The Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County says VPK participation in 2020-2021 is down about 19 percent compared to 2019-2020, but they say VPK fall enrollment seems to be on track to resume at pre-COVID participation levels.

“Just imagine having a kid sit at home for five years, only taking instructions from their parents and their relatives, and then they come to school one day, and now they’re standing in front of a stranger, and there are 20 other strangers sitting next to them that they don’t know,” said Kevin Kastner, the principal at West Tampa Elementary. “Just the anxiety of that alone can impede learning.”

You can find more information about Hillsborough County Schools VPK program here or ELC Pinellas County programs here. ELC Pinellas says it also offers scholarships for full-day programs at free or reduced tuition based on income.