(COLORADO SPRINGS) — In the upcoming 2023-2024 school year, all Colorado families are eligible to apply to the Universal Preschool (UPK) Colorado program. The goal of the program is to help ensure children are prepared both academically and socially before entering into kindergarten.

KinderCare provides early childhood education all throughout the state with eight locations in Colorado Springs. All of the Colorado Springs locations are preparing for the upcoming school year as they will be offering UPK to families.

“August 14, that Monday, we will be starting up UPK, all of our centers in Colorado Springs,” Area Center Leader for Colorado Springs KinderCare, Tina McGrath, said. “Then we are open to taking throughout the year. So, they will be opening the portal up for UPK for you to apply even after this next round.”

Inside of the Vickers KinderCare location students sat on the carpet before lunch time.

All Colorado families are able to receive at least 15 hours of free voluntary preschool and could be eligible for additional hours. The UPK application can be found here along with eligibility details.

“Most families will qualify for 15 hours, so you use the 15 hours,” McGrath said. “But what we do is we have a wrap rate that you’ll be paying much less than our normal tuition because you will be funded.”

There are eight KinderCare locations in Colorado Springs which will be a part of UPK.

At KinderCare locations, families can keep their children at school for longer periods if needed while saving money.

“But in our centers, you’re also able to keep your kiddos before and after their peak hours,” McGrath said. “So, if you need to work, you can still take part in our facilities to stay as long as you need to for the day.”

Inside of the classroom at the KinderCare Vickers location is one teacher who loves her work.

“You’re learning new personalities and how to work with them and just watching them start from the ground and then taking off,” said Linda Littlejohn, KinderCare Teacher.

Littlejohn has been a teacher for the past 25 years and shared why she loves the job: “Watching them gain their accomplishments and watching the excitement on their face when they figure out something.”

Littlejohn helped her students work on building shapes on Friday morning.

With the school year quickly approaching, KinderCare shared what the hiring process looked like for early childhood education teachers.

“It has been hard for us,” McGrath said. “I think it’s kind of an industry thing right now to find quality teachers… So, it has been hard for us. We have been able to pull through, though it looks like we’re going to be able to find teachers for all the ones that we have coming up here soon.”

McGrath recommended interested teachers apply online.

Southern Colorado school districts similarly are in need of preschool teachers, specifically Colorado Springs School District 11 and Academy School District 20.

The positive benefits of early childhood education is one that Littlejohn sees every day.

“Just gives them that head start,” Littlejohn said. “It gives them that extra advantage and makes them more ready and prepared to be successful when they do start kindergarten and beyond.”