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Expanding Access: STL Pre-K Cooperative grows high-quality seats

A preK teacher talks to a boy who is working with a peg board.
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The number of children attending high-quality pre-Kindergarten programs in St. Louis’s most underserved communities has grown – exponentially. 

The STL Pre-K Cooperative has quadrupled the number of children served since 2020 to 400 today. This fall, that number is expected to grow to 1,000. 

In November, the cooperative issued a call for new partners. It is accepting applications to join its network from community-based early childhood education centers and K-12 educators. The cooperative is working to empower hubs in north and south St. Louis – Beginning Futures and SouthSide Early Childhood Center – as well as provide professional development and technical assistance to new partners. Dozens have applied. 

“The interest shows the need for providers to have access to quality support,” said Anne Miller, an education consultant who founded the cooperative.

The Opportunity Trust gave seed funding and provides ongoing support to the cooperative. It considers access to quality pre-K a key strategy to building a strong foundation for later success in school.

Research shows that the years between birth and kindergarten are critical as children begin to  learn how to socialize with peers and adults, as well as develop cognitive, social and emotional skills that lay a broad foundation for learning.

Last year, joining the cooperative allowed Gateway Science Academy to expand pre-K by two new classrooms, and provided support for the play-based Apple Tree curriculum. 

Last spring, City Garden Montessori School, also part of the cooperative, nearly eliminated the kindergarten readiness gap among racial and economic groups in its preschool classrooms. It has doubled the number of children served since joining the cooperative. 

“Our north star is 85% of kids ready for kindergarten,” Miller said. Last spring 70% of children across the cooperative finished preschool kindergarten-ready. 

At Beginning Futures in Walnut Park, Executive Director Rochelle Bea oversees an early childhood center that now serves 120 children ages birth to six, as well as elementary school-aged children who need before or after-school care. 

She joined the cooperative three years ago and has benefited from the support. In the next year, Bea plans to open a second center about a mile away.

The cooperative provides grants, technical assistance, professional development, and instructional support that allows existing pre-K providers to expand and improve. At SouthSide, this has allowed for expansion of staff. 

“SouthSide is thrilled with the support of the cooperative to hire a director of instructional support at SouthSide that will provide instructional development and coaching not just for SouthSide, but for programs all over the city,” said Jackie Weaver, executive director. 

The Opportunity Trust invests in educators and school systems eager to build the capacity required to make significant and measurable change.

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