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Open Project Four Wider

Based on recommendations by the Commission on Equity in Public Education in 1994, the General Assembly embraced a preschool program for at-risk four-year-olds and a year later expanded the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI).

And for a very good reason.

The four recommendations forwarded to the General Assembly had been proven in other states to work most effectively. That is why, as of 2005-2006, according to the Virginia Department of Education's website, “state funds are available to provide comprehensive preschool programs to 100 percent of Virginia's at-risk four-year-olds, as defined by VPI funding eligibility, and who are not being served by Head Start.”

The purpose of those state grants, the Virginia Department of Education notes, “is to reduce disparities among young children upon formal school entry and to reduce or eliminate those risk factors that lead to early academic failure.”

No wonder parents in Buckingham County have so emphatically stood up for the county school system's Project Four and their children's participation in it. Buckingham is enrolling 108 four-year-olds but there are other children whose parents wish they could also take advantage of a program that lays a crucial educational foundation. The time to reach education into someone's life is when they are young; begin spreading their intellectual wings then and they are far more likely to fly.

In Buckingham, there were 28 four-year-olds whose parents registered them for Project Four but who could not enroll because there wasn't enough money for additional teachers and aides. There are also parents of children, not at-risk per state definition, who fear their child will become at-risk, in effect, in kindergarten if they are not able to participate in Project Four, especially when compared with four-year-old classmates able to take advantage of the program's crucial foundation.

More and more parents in Buckingham are becoming aware of the program and wanting their child to benefit from Project Four. It is wonderful to see these parents so active in advocating on behalf of their child's education. Too many parents leave too much to the enthusiasm of others.

Buckingham School Board chairman H. Ed Wise told parents at a recent meeting that, “Personally, I would like to assure those concerned that Project Four is very much a concern of this board and we are looking into it.” Interim School Superintendent Joan Staton reiterated that sentiment, saying, “I, too, would like to say we are very concerned about this and we are looking into it…We are looking into it.”

Concerned and caring parents and caring and concerned school officials is a potently positive combination. The answer to opening Project Four's doors wider for more children will undoubtedly require additional funding from the state and the County. The children are worth every penny.