Although primarily known as a college town, Greater Gainesville is also home to numerous early learning programs tailored for every kind of child.
“That’s one reason why Alachua County is such a great place to raise kids, because they have such a great focus on education and the importance of early education,” said Jacki Hodges, chief executive officer of the Early Learning Coalition (ELC) of Alachua. The ELC is an organization that works to promote high-quality school readiness, pre-kindergarten and after-school programs, thus increasing all children’s chances of achieving future educational success and becoming productive members of society.
Hodges noted the children enrolled in pre-school in the U.S. are generally around 3-to-4 years old. In Florida, children who are four years old on or before September 1st of the anticipated school year can participate in pre-kindergarten. The cost will depend on the type of program, but Hodges suggests that every parent visit different pre-schools and avoid settling for the cheapest or the first option.
In Alachua County, there is a wide array of options, many of which are found in independent, parochial and public schools. However, if you’re unsure of what program is right for your child, Alachua has one of many Early Learning Coalitions in Florida, Hodges said. They have programs such as VPK and a School Readiness Program that aid low-income parents to meet the educational requirements for Florida law and prepare children for pre-school or kindergarten.
Alachua County also provides specialized programs for children with specific needs. They accept students at any time of the year, but space is limited. Some of these free programs include:
ACCEPT: This program is aimed toward students who are pregnant and/or a parent, allowing them to finish middle school and high school in addition to developing important life skills.
ESE Pre-K: This program is for 3-to-5-year-olds with special needs.
Head Start: This is a free, federally funded school readiness program and parent-community engagement program.
Voluntary Pre-K: VPK is a free and federally funded education program that includes 540 hours of instructional hours or 300 instructional hours in the summer.
Ultimately, selecting a preschool is about finding the best fit for your child, but you can rest assured, Greater Gainesville is equipped with all the early learning programs and pre-schools for your child to thrive.