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Preschool: A Critical Building Block for Academic & Lifelong Success

“I loved preschool! I get a happy feeling when I think of it. 
We got to do centers and there was a voting group where you got to choose what you want to do.”
- Clark Pitkin, 2nd grader at McPolin Elementary School


Preschool, which research shows is critical for so many reasons, creates the foundational attitude upon which children build their educational careers. Students are exposed to new experiences, skills, and ideas; academic language; and friendship, cooperation, collaboration, and confidence are practiced each day.

“There can be a bit of misconception of what preschool actually is - people aren’t quite sure what we are doing,” smiled Laurie Holbrook-Jorgensen, Preschool Lead Teacher (3’s) and Instructional Coach at MPES. “It’s a balance of open-ended learning: learning through play, discovery, and loose parts (also known as project-based learning, or PBL); small- and large-group learning; and structured instruction time.”

In PBL (quickly becoming the standard at all grade levels, thanks to tons of positive research), students are given a goal - say, to make something to transport - using manipulatives and materials. They use elements however they like, with no set outcome and lots of encouragement to see what they can create.

“You step back and let them go,” said Jorgensen. “It’s like the real world and we want them to become creative thinkers.” 

Preschool also includes a social-emotional curriculum. Children learn to identify feelings, how to calm down, and to practice mindfulness – even the tiniest ones! Special Education, too, is integrated. 

“Preschool is a microcosm of the school district. We have a Special Ed. Director and two assistants, we do assessments and individualized instruction,” said Jorgensen. “Preschool IS a grade. The people are just really small!”

“The most important part of my program,” said Jorgensen, “is making sure my students develop a love for school.” 

Three-year-olds ease into preschool with half-days of instruction a few times a week. They learn things like colors, numbers, counting 1 - 10, even just holding a pencil or crayon. For many children, it’s their first time away from home and their parents, which can make the adjustment feel a bit daunting at first.

Jorgensen remembered one three-year-old in particular who had a very audible adjustment period: “Her family had just moved to Park City and she was scared to be apart from them. She was biting and screaming - and she could scream louder than I had ever heard!” 

But soon, a big shift. She eventually began to run into school, excited to start her day. And it didn’t happen by accident…

“We did a LOT of emotional validation,” Jorgensen shared. “We weren’t talking her out of big emotions, we didn’t try to change her mind. We showed her what it could be like here -  that school is this magical place to come and feel safe.”

That little one, Ava, is now in second-grade at McPolin, and she LOVES school. When asked about the preschool transition, her mom reported, “I asked Ava if she remembered it - but she said she doesn’t really. Only that she had fun in that class!” 

Four-year-olds, who attend preschool for full days Monday through Thursday, dive into a bit more of an academic curriculum. They build familiarity with concepts and language, and participate more in student-led learning. 

“There were four centers in my preschool,” said Clark Pitkin, now a 2nd-grader at McPolin. “Miss Julie let me decide what people go in which centers and I got to change sometimes. It made me feel good and happy and I got to choose where I went.” 

Student-led learning doesn’t stop there. Each week, children collaboratively choose subjects to study. It starts with a group brainstorm: they come up with a list of things, like airplanes, rainbows, or space. When a student has an idea, they tell the class why it’s interesting. The class votes and then spends a certain number of hours each week learning about the winning subject!

“The topics, generated by kids, are something they study and create projects on,” said Jorgensen. “They present their projects to the class, and sometimes to other groups and adults. This has an added benefit of comfort with public speaking, starting from a very young age.” 

The preschool foundation of autonomy, creativity, and exploration carries through for Clark, who can’t pick just one favorite thing to learn about. “My favorite subject is science. Oh, and reading, and math. But, in science, you get to do STEM. STEM - that’s when you get to do technology, experimenting, building, and math.”

As PCSD Preschool gets ready to more than double in size as school bond projects begin [ADD LINK TO OTHER ARTICLE HERE], it will soon be able to accommodate 100’s more children - which will make the need for PCEF donor support even greater. 

“We wouldn’t be able to run this program without PCEF,” said Jorgensen. “They’re here for us over and over, with small grants and huge donations.” 

Despite mountains of research on preschool’s positive impact on students, families, and the community, it is not supported by the state of Utah.

Attending preschool increases:

  • High School Graduation Rates
  • Years of College Completed 
  • Lifetime Earned Income 

And every dollar invested in preschool provides a $13 dollar return. This is because, when the achievement gap is addressed before kindergarten, it cuts down on expensive interventions in early elementary.  

PCEF leads the community in funding initiatives that inspire all Park City students to successfully reach their academic and lifelong potential. Preschool, the very definition of this mission, will continue to be supported as one of PCEF’s 8 key programs

“We are all just so grateful for the huge amount of PCEF support. Overall, I still feel as enthusiastic about this job as I ever have,” Jorgensen weighed in. “I love being here and I’m so proud to be part of this staff. It’s not for everyone, but it’s what we do. They are our people.”


When you lower the cost of preschool - you raise the odds of success.

DONATIONS to PCEF support Preschool and initiatives that inspire all Park CIty students to reach their academic and lifelong potential. 

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