Hundreds of 5-year-olds in the community are believed to be out of school and not enrolled in any formal preschool program that would prepare them for first grade, resulting in a delay in their cognitive development, according to Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan, Ed.D.
Because of this, the Public School System is developing a Comprehensive Service Plan that would cover not only children from 3 years old onwards but from birth, she said.
Each school year, PSS accommodates roughly over 600 kindergarten students on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. These are 5-year-olds who receive formal education on campus. Only a few schools, however, have full-day sessions for kindergarteners; the rest only have half-day sessions.
“The biggest challenge for us is really trying to find the funds to make kindergarten available to all children. Right now, we have many kids that are not in the program because we lack the classrooms and teachers. Because of this, 50 percent of 5-year-olds are out there somewhere and probably not engaged in any formal preschool program. So when they enter PSS at age 6, they are already behind in terms of primary cognitive development,” Sablan explained Tuesday.
She disclosed that she recently shared the plan for Commonwealth students at the National Governors' Association meeting earlier this month.
Without the support of local leaders, however, the mission to prepare all students and provide a seamless transition in their education would be impossible to achieve, she said.
The kindergarten program sources its funding from local appropriation.
Besides the K-12th program, PSS also administers the preschool programs Early Intervention and Head Start. The commissioner revealed that from the initial Comprehensive Service Plan for kindergarten to 3rd grade, PSS decided to shift the initiative from the birth of the child.
To successfully enforce this plan, Sablan said that PSS has to work with the Commonwealth Health Center's Maternal Child Healthcare and the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs' Child Care programs, which both cater to young kids.
“We need to make sure that these babies, by the time they enter preschool programs, they are fully prepared because it's all about readiness,” said Sablan, who reiterated her idea of having one educational system in the CNMI that would include postsecondary education.
Sablan said she will prepare school principals and administrators to become early childhood educators. “Do they have any background that speaks to the development of children looking at the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional aspects? We need to know so we can train and inform them,” added the commissioner.