Photo and Article by: Michael Waterloo, Editor, North Coast Citizen
Neah-Kah-Nie superintendent Paul Erlebach and preschool teacher Angie Douma hold up letter people to celebrate the approval of the Early Learning Kindergarten Readiness Partnership and Innovation Grant that the school received.

Each grade that a child moves up, he or she takes with him or her knowledge from the previous grade. It’s the material retained from the previous grades that helps a student stand out once he or she arrives in high school.

It’s never too early to start teaching the children, and Neah-Kah-Nie preschool is making sure that the students get the best education possible, as it recently received a $72,000 Early Learning Kindergarten Readiness Partnership and Innovation Grant from the Early Learning Council, who works with the Oregon Department of Education.

“We’re very, very excited about it. Angie Douma did a great job of writing the grant. It was very competitive. I’m not sure exactly how many applicants there were, but it was a highly competitive grant,” said Neah-Kah-Nie School District superintendent Paul Erlebach. “In order to be eligible for the grant, it had to be innovative. We were one of the most innovative grant proposals.”

Douma, who is going into her 11th year teaching in the district, said that there were very specific criteria that needed to be met in order to receive the grant.

“What they were looking for were programs that were innovative, doing something new and different. They also wanted programs that could measure impact, where they could see that what you’re doing is actually making a difference. It also needed to be something that they thought they could replicate across other places in the state,” Douma said. “Our proposal was really focused on a couple of goals. One, we wanted to reach as many kids as possible for them to come to preschool. Secondly, we wanted to prove our program in terms of getting them ready for kindergarten. It’s really a kindergarten readiness model that’s both academic and social, emotional and behavioral.”

In the 4,500-plus word proposal, Douma outlines the specifics that she felt the preschool needed.

“Some of the things that we put in there were to get new assessments that we could use to measure how we are doing and so we can measure student progress. Also, some programs to reach the whole child in terms of music classes with the Music Together Program, as well as some art lessons. We’ll be using the Bay City Art Center,” Douma said.

One of the big additions to the school, though, will be the sensory gym, which Douma is hoping to have ready to go by the beginning of school in a month.

“We have a space here, that is quite ready to go, but it’s going to be converted into an indoor play area for kids so that they have a place to be active since we have so much rain here.  They need that. We’ll also be using it for kids with special needs, so they can do some sensory activities,” Douma said. “It’s also going to be used to help us to facilitate some brain gym activities. It’s about getting your body and your brain ready to learn and focus. That’s a really big piece for four year olds.”

When Erlebach and Douma submitted the proposal, they didn’t know how much they would get, but they were able to get everything on their wish list. Part of the reason that Douma felt the proposal was accepted was because of the research that was done prior to the submission.

Douma said that she looked over different models to see which ones would be valuable and applicable to the community. What also gave the preschool the upper hand was showing the statistical data, which showed that students who go to preschool benefit more than those who do not.

“Part of proving that what we are doing works is looking at the Oregon kindergarten assessment data that we had from last year,” Douma, whose two sessions can accommodate up to 40 students combined, said. “That shows that kids who go to preschool far outperform those who don’t, and beyond that, the kids that go to our preschool model outperform others, as well.”

Erlebach said that this is the first grant that the preschool has received during his tenure, and he thinks it’s great to start early with students in order to avoid issues later.

“For the Neah-Kah-Nie School District, it’s a big commitment to have a preschool. There are very few school districts in Oregon that have a district-sponsored preschool, and we are one of them,” Erlebach said. “The board thought that it was a priority. I think that the attitude was that you pay now or you pay later. If you don’t provide these educational opportunities, then later, it’s all about interventions.

“We want to get kids off to a healthy start with the right people driving the bus.

That’s what we have. We are going to expand the facility and we have the right staff. We think that it’s very, very important to get kids involved and educated at an early age.”

The Neah-Kah-Nie preschool will be holding open houses on Tuesday, Aug. 26, and on Wednesday, Aug. 27, from 5-6:30 p.m. Families can meet the staff, view the classroom, obtain registration packets and schedule a time for a registration appointment.