Spotlight: Great Start Midland Making it Easier for Parents to Access Preschool

By Brenda Brissette-Mata

MIDLAND — Enrolling a child in preschool in Midland County has become a lot easier since the Midland County Quality Preschool Partnership and the Great Start Collaborative streamlined the intake process.

One mother said it's a lot like one-stop shopping.

Alan Oman, co-director of the Great Start Collaborative in Midland said the initiative began with a partnership between Head Start and the Great Start Readiness Program.

Head Start is a federally funded preschool program and GSRP is a state funded preschool. While they are both preschool programs, there are differences in eligibility requirements.

“There was a perception of competition that often made it difficult for communications between programs and with area families,” he said.

So in 2005 the agencies worked together to address the problem by coordinating their efforts.

“I'll be honest, there was a lot of nervousness at first,” said Oman. “People were essentially giving up their ability to market their own programs. Basically it was a trust issue.”

The first order of business was finding a way to formalize an intake process for both programs.

“It was difficult in the past to know if parents had enrolled their child at multiple sites,” Oman said. “Often parents would enroll their child in two or three programs, get accepted in all three and on the first day the child would show up at one place.”

With a single intake form and database, that problem has disappeared.

Now, intake forms are submitted to the Great Start Regional Child Care Resource Center satellite office in Midland County, where a county-wide database and a waiting list, if necessary, are maintained.

Parents who are eligible for Head Start but request a GSRP program receive a phone call explaining the benefits of the Head Start program. That way they can make an informed decision.

If a parent chooses the GSRP program, the intake form serves as the release form for Head Start. (When filling out the intake form, parents select a first and second choice.)

For Dianna Overzet, a mother of four from Midland Township, the streamlined process made life easier.

“I picked up a brochure at my child’s elementary school. I just filled it out and put my picks in order,” Overzet said. “You don't have to call around to five, six or seven preschools and go through your whole story again and again.”

Overzet said she liked being able to prioritize her choices.

“You just fill out the information, put down where you live, what your preferences are and they call you back and say 'Here's where you can get your child in.' It's a lot like a one-stop shop,” she said.

The county-wide database keeps track of which programs are filling up and also allows for shared marketing, the result being programs fill up faster and fears about losing students to another program are allayed.

Demand for the programs also has increased. In the 2005-06 school year, 366 children participated in the Quality Preschool Partnership’s 28 preschool classes. This past year, 464 children enrolled.

In addition to streamlining enrollment, the partnership agreed to adopt a common curriculum.

Oman said the shared curriculum has been of particular importance with the economic downturn since families move more frequently within the area. The shared curriculum helps children transition smoothly.

It has also made it easier to provide regular professional development opportunities for staff.

“Instead of every partner organization trying to find training for their staff, we now offer it on a county-wide basis,” Oman said. “It is a lot more cost effective."

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