Exclusive: Inside one of Alabama’s First Class Pre-K classrooms

Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 5:59 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The state allocates millions to its First-Class Pre-K Program through the Department of Early Childhood Education. Recognized by many groups as one of the best programs in the country, it currently costs $174 million to operate.

WSFA 12 News was given an exclusive look inside one of these classrooms to see how the money is being used.

Tammy Finch is a 15-year educator who currently teaches at Little Explorer’s Learning Center in Montgomery.

“It is definitely pre-K in here,” said Finch.

This is the first year her classroom is in operation.

“You have to have the love for the children, because the parents are entrusting us with their babies,” said Finch.

Finch says she’s questioned often about what happens in a pre-K classroom.

“We may not say ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ ‘D.’ I don’t do that. But in the curriculum, they may pull out a few letters,” said Finch.

There are over 1,465 First Class Pre-K classrooms in the state. All are in various locations but similar with small class sizes, two teachers per class, structured days and learning through experience.

During the last legislative session, lawmakers allocated $174 million for this pre-K. Allison Muhlendorf with the Alabama School Readiness Alliance advocated for the allocation.

“The teaching coaches and the monitors always know what the classrooms need. They’re in frequent contact with the teachers,” she said. “And they know when they need updated supplies.”

She also says more money is needed to expand the impact of pre-K in the state.

“For every dollar invested in a high-quality pre-K program, economists estimate that there is a $7 return,” said Muhlendorf.

Finch says it will also help students in the long run.

“I tell them all the time. ‘You’re going on to kindergarten, but we are trying to teach you for life,’” Finch said.

The goal is to reach 70% of Alabama’s 4-year-olds in three years.

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