(COLORADO SPRINGS) — On Tuesday, Jan. 17, enrollment opened for Universal Preschool (UPK) in the state of Colorado. Families throughout Colorado can now apply for their child to enroll in a preschool program offered by the state.

According to the Department of Early Childhood, this means children will be eligible for a half-day state-funded preschool program a year before going into kindergarten.

A Colorado Springs mother of four, Stephanie Northcutt, shared the positive benefits she predicts from UPK providing more children with social interaction in a learning environment.

“I think it’s a great option, honestly,” Northcutt said. “There’s no wrong answer to being at home preschooling them and then sometimes I think littles are better with a little more structure, with more little ones with them, so I think it’s good.”

Northcutt shared she homeschooled her oldest child, but for her second child she could see the positive impact preschool had on his social skills.

“He made friends easily,” Northcutt said. “Even though he’s introverted, they didn’t try to pull out the extrovert. They knew he was introverted and just worked from there.”

Matthew Northcutt's first day of preschool. Courtesy of Stephanie Northcutt.
Matthew Northcutt’s first day of preschool. Courtesy of Stephanie Northcutt.

Colorado Springs School District 11 is offering more preschool options for families in the district.

“We are just so excited to be able to offer more preschool program options next year,” District 11 Director of Early Childhood, Sarah Carlson, said. “For a long time, we’ve known that our part-day preschool program is perfect for many of our families, but it doesn’t work for all of our families. And so in alignment with the offerings that UPK has put out there, we’re hoping next year to be able to offer a ten hour per week program, a 15 hour per week program, and a 30 hour per week program also.”

Inside the new preschool classroom at Audubon Elementary School

A new classroom was built at Audubon Elementary School which will give more spots for students to receive an early childhood education.

“So this classroom will bring enough seats for 32 additional students, which will bring our total for the year up to adding 160 students,” Carlson said. “And then we’re also hoping to add more classrooms and about another 60 students by the start of next school year.”

Inside of the preschool classroom at Audubon Elementary School

In opening up more spots for students, Carlson shared that it has been a challenge in hiring teachers.

“Finding teachers and teaching staff for our classrooms has been a big challenge,” Carlson said. “Getting teachers into the teaching profession in general has been getting harder and harder. The pandemic really exacerbated all of that. But in spite of that, we’ve been able to find some amazing new staff, and we hope to keep them with us for a long, long time.”

Families can log in online to start the enrollment process. The Department of Early Childhood said families are encouraged to sign up early and children will begin being match to schools in mid-February.

Carlson explained District 11 will go through UPK applications and work to place students into classrooms.

“Then after a few weeks, we will get a batch of all those applications, and the first thing we’ll be doing is comparing that list of our new applications to our currently enrolled students,” Carlson said. “Get those students placed where they want to be and then just start working with every family who comes our way and getting them into a preschool classroom.”

First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs also has early childhood education option available for families.

“So we actually offer two different programs. We have our Get Set program where we bring in kids fully scholarshiped, five mornings a week. Parents don’t pay anything for their child to attend here for preschool,” Preschool Director at First Presbyterian Church, Christy Frederick, said. “And then we also offer a tuition based preschool program where there are lots of scholarships taking place on that and also parents who can pay full tuition.”

Inside of the preschool classrooms at First Presbyterian Church

Frederick stated that families do not have to part of the faith to attend preschool and First Presbyterian Church will not be opting into UPK.

“We are not opting into the universal preschool program because we offer free preschool already,” Frederick said. “And in my opinion, we offer a better program than the universal program and also just so parents know they have a choice and there is always openings here.”

In the preschool programs available at First Presbyterian Church, Frederick shared they focus on social and emotional growth and preparing the children for kindergarten.

“We really tried to develop a love for learning in the young kids so that they’re excited for school so that they can see a bright future ahead of them, just filling the gaps that might have taken place in their home life or because of the pandemic, or just all different situations that can happen,” Frederick said.

Information is available online on the two types of early childhood education that First Presbyterian Church offers.

“Actually, our enrollment for next school year will open February 13th and we do all of the enrollment online,” said Frederick. “But we love to get phone calls, emails, we love to give tours so you can come and check it out. We like to keep transparency, so we tell parents you can come and just watch the classroom.”