Sollars Elementary School kindergarten teacher Heather Tibodeau can tell right away which of her new students come from Sure Start.

“They’re used to being in a school setting; they know how to sit and listen and how to interact with other kids,” she said. “Those readiness pieces are just so important because it just makes the academic piece so much easier. I wish we had more.”

That likely won’t happen anytime soon. While the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific funds the Sure Start program for selected children, there are no plans at this time to start a “universal preschool in overseas DODDS locations,” DODDS-Pacific spokesman Charles Steitz said in a written response.

Stateside, all Defense Department schools for years have offered at least a half-day preschool for 4-year-olds, Steitz said. Preschools historically have been the purview of the military services overseas, he said. In most overseas locations, Child Development Services offer full-day, part-day and hourly care for children 6 weeks old through kindergarten age.

“These programs are managed by certified instructors, receive accreditation and are monitored on early childhood assessment practices and student performance,” Steitz wrote.

They also come with a price tag. Parents must pay for care received at child development centers, or CDCs, though the cost typically is pro-rated based on household income.

Across the Pacific, more than 1,000 children are enrolled in Sure Start. But judging by the number who applied for the program at just one base, more parents would like their children to be in preschool. At Misawa Air Base, Japan, 60 applicants from E-5 and E-6 families sought nine vacancies in August.

“There’s a need and an interest,” said Sollars Elementary School Sure Start teacher Ingrid Ahlberg. “And I think that’s the way American education is going with the ‘No Child Left Behind’ Act, but it’s expensive.”

The biggest costs would be new classrooms: Preschool, like kindergarten and first grade, are required to be located on the first floor with an external exit. Two adults must staff the room. And then, there’s the equipment.

But, Ahlberg said, “It’s an investment that those of us in early childhood education think it’s really worth making for our future.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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