Grand Island Public Schools will add two full-day preschool classrooms at Howard Elementary this fall after being awarded a $241,672 grant through the Early Childhood Education Grant Program.

The grant was approved at the Nebraska Department of Education’s board meeting on Friday and will allow a total capacity of 36 preschool students.

“Early childhood education is extremely important to us at GIPS. It is the first item listed in our strategic plan,” said Superintendent Dr. Tawana Grover. “We know we have a great need for early childhood education not just in our district, but in the whole Grand Island area. This expansion grant is an important step in making early childhood education available for more children in our community.”

Bonnie Hinkle, president of the GIPS Board of Education, said the board has made early childhood education a top priority for many years.

“It has been a challenge to find funding needed to expand the Early Childhood Education program,” Hinkle said. “We are proud that Dr. Grover and her staff continued to explore all possible avenues to find a way to make the expansion at Howard Elementary a reality.”

“Equity is also one of our top priorities, and there is no greater equalizer than education and knowledge,” Hinkle said.

Amy Richards, GIPS early childhood coordinator, said the new opportunity to provide full-day preschool at Howard allows for expanded preschool opportunities for children and families in the district.

“This grant provides the resources to allow us to provide high quality early childhood education in an area with the highest need,” Richards said.

Robin Dexter, GIPS associate superintendent, said the district’s early education task force supports the strategic plan success measure of increasing the percentage of incoming kindergartener students who have participated in a high-quality early childhood education experience. The task force includes GIPS early childhood teachers, GIPS Board of Education members and district leaders, local daycare providers and state leaders.

“The task force supports the need to expand opportunities in GIPS, and this expansion grant will help us do so by adding two more high-quality classrooms in a GIPS neighborhood school,” Dexter said.

Applications for the new classroom spots will be accepted immediately and will follow GIPS preschool application system protocols. Geographic location and proximity to the early childhood campus is also taken into consideration. Richards said she hopes to have families notified of their child’s acceptance to the added classrooms by the first part of July.

Howard Elementary Principal Julie Schnitzler said she is excited about the expansion.

“We are excited for our neighborhood families to have the opportunity to bring their children to preschool at Howard,” Schnitzler said. “Our staff is excited to welcome the preschool teachers and make them a part of our Howard family. We look forward to celebrating the arrival of our youngest learners.”

Richards said the goal of early childhood education at GIPS is to provide meaningful experiences for children so they can enter kindergarten ready for a lifetime of success, happiness and achievement. She said the district is also working on plans to staff the new classrooms and her staff is excited that the program will be able to serve more students.

“We look forward to not only serving more children and families through this opportunity, but to do so in a full-day setting that provides the opportunity to deepen our impact by planning and implementing even more learning opportunities and experiences each day,” Richards said.

The Early Childhood Education Grant Program, according to the Nebraska Department of Education, is to improve equity of access to early childhood education and prekindergarten programs. Eight other school districts across the state were awarded similar grants on Friday.

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