Aspen Community Foundation’s Preschool on Wheels program gets state certification | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Community Foundation’s Preschool on Wheels program gets state certification

Staff report

The Preschool on Wheels teachers serve as many as 120 students in Rifle, Silt and New Castle.

Following an in-depth review process by the Colorado Division of Early Care and Learning, the Preschool on Wheels program is now the first in the state to be licensed as a mobile preschool provider.

In partnership with the Garfield School District Re-2, the Aspen Community Foundation started Preschool on Wheels to address the fact that only a small percentage of low-income children in western Garfield County have access to quality preschool, and that more than half are unprepared for kindergarten.

"What a feather in the cap of this region to have the Preschool on Wheels program leading the state, and in many ways the nation, in early-childhood education," said Keith Lambert, former Rifle mayor and City Council member. "As a retired teacher, I can give firsthand testimony to the importance of the work this innovative program is doing to close the learning gap for these kids and assure they start kindergarten with an equal footing."

The program was launched in fall 2012 with "Gus the Bus," and "The Sunshine Bus" was added in 2013. Both are school buses that have been retrofitted into a state-of-the-art classroom on wheels. "Gus" travels to six Rifle neighborhoods twice weekly for two hours from September through June, and "Sunshine" visits six Silt and New Castle neighborhoods.

Four credentialed teachers, some of whom are bilingual, serve as many as 120 students. A total of 235 children have benefited from the Preschool on Wheels program during its three years of operation.

Formerly, the state of Colorado had no mobile-preschool licensing classification, but after evaluating the Preschool on Wheels program, the state modified its policy to add "mobile preschools" as a licensing category.

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"We have been excited about this innovative approach to offering high-quality preschool experiences to Colorado children who otherwise would not have such access," said David Collins, Colorado Division of Early Care and Learning director, in a statement for the Preschool on Wheels celebration. "We are hopeful that the mobile-preschool model will expand to other areas of the state where child care deserts exist, thereby expanding access to high-quality preschool for more children."

Studies show students thrive in a small-classroom environment. With a student-to-teacher ratio of 3.5-to-1, the program's current preschoolers are meeting developmental milestones for social-emotional, cognitive, language and literacy growth. They are on par with the school district's brick-and-mortar preschoolers in nearly every category. Students' families also benefit from the program's parent-education component.

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