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Elementary schools on Pacific bases are now accepting applications for their free Sure Start program, designed for potentially "at risk" preschoolers.

A major change to this year’s program is the age eligibility requirement: Students must be 4 years old on or before Sept. 1 to enroll in the 2009-10 program, even though classes don’t begin until Sept. 15.

Applicants are evaluated on various criteria, including their parents’ income, whether they have a parent who hasn’t graduated from high school and whether the family is headed by a single parent.

Priority goes to children whose sponsor is a military E-4, civilian NF-2 or NSPS-1 or below.

Naomi Mayer, the early childhood education coordinator with the Department of Defense Dependents Schools Pacific director’s office on Okinawa, said during a phone interview that each class will be limited to 18 students, and that classes fill up quickly.

Mayer said the full-day program is "extremely successful in preparing the children" for educational success as they transition into kindergarten and beyond.

According to DODDS, the program has four main components:

Education: Offers a variety of learning activities that encourage social-emotional, cognitive and physical growth.Health: Offers medical, dental, special needs and other health screenings.Social services: Provides referrals for families and links to community resources.Parental involvement: Each parent must volunteer in the classroom for at least 30 hours during the year.Mayer said that the parents’ involvement is mainly focused on "interacting with the children" and that activities vary from school to school.

"If you were the military spouse, you would come in during your lunch hour" to be part of the school’s lunch routine, Mayer explained.

The program features "family-style dining," in the classroom instead of the cafeteria, meaning children serve themselves.

"It’s just a very nice way to have conversation" and helps the parent become involved with the learning process, she said.

And adjustments to the volunteer requirement will be made if a parent has to leave for a temporary duty or deployment during the school year, she explained.

Before the child ever enters the classroom, the teacher will visit the family home, Mayer said.

"The home visit is done initially to get to know the child … to make that child feel comfortable as well," she said.

Meeting in an environment that is comfortable for the child helps the student and teacher develop "that bond immediately," she said.

She said parents can help prepare their children for this fall’s Sure Start program by giving them "as many experiences as you can" and having conversations with the child in which "you’re asking questions … not just who, what, where and when, but how and why."

The only bases in the Pacific that don’t offer the program are those on Guam, according to Mayer.

Contact your base school for more information on Sure Start.

Who is eligible?

All Sure Start students must be command sponsored and must be 4 years old on or before Sept. 1. Considerations for enrollment may include one or more of the following criteria:

Family incomeLow birth weightParent was a teen when first child was bornFamily headed by single parentThree or more siblings close in ageChild has an older sibling with a severe disabilityParent on remote assignment for three months or longerParent not a high school graduateParent’s primary language not EnglishStudents are selected by a committee of school and base services personnel.

—Source: DODDS-Pacific

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