An early childhood educational program that has enjoyed success in pilot cities preparing eligible children for kindergarten will be offered in the Brownwood Independent School District this fall.

Under the program made possible by a two-year Texas Education Agency grant, school district Pre-K classes will be provided at Little Dude Ranch in Brownwood for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The district has been encouraged to participate in the Texas Early Education Model (TEEM) grant program,” Assistant Superintendent Jeana Moss told members of the Brownwood school board Monday night. “It’s a new relationship with child care providers.”

The program will involve all district Pre-K teachers in training.

“Another component finds the district reaching out into the community to both nonprofit and for-profit day care facilities by sending certified teachers into classrooms to provide cognitive development activities for students,” Moss said. “We have the idea of expanding into other facilities if they qualify as the model develops,” Moss said.

In addition to better preparing children for kindergarten, the program is also expected to reduce the number of Pre-K classrooms needed at elementary campuses.

“We’re excited about it,” Ann Sheffield-Knobel, president of Little Dude Ranch, said about the program. “All the years I’ve been involved in child care, our priority has been the education and development of young people. This is just a better opportunity to help them.”

Applications are already being accepted at the child care center, and applications will also need to be filed in August at the Brownwood Independent School District office on Southside Drive.

Children already enrolled at Little Dude Ranch and in Child Care Program Operations or CCPO — the program that pays child care costs for eligible parents — will only need to apply at the school district office and indicate a preference for Pre-K classes at the child care center when they begin in the fall, Knobel said.

Applications will be screened, and eligible families will be notified.

“Your child will be at Little Dude Ranch for the whole day to receive the benefits of a regular child development program plus the academic program that the public school will provide and add to his school day,” Knobel said. “The program is designed for 3- and 4-year-old children and will greatly enhance school readiness skills while balancing the cognitive and social-emotional development.”

Knobel said the concept is a “holistic approach” to a child’s needs, including nurturing, nutrition, play, enrichment, child care, consistency, safety and health. In addition, the child will not need to be transported from one site to another.

A degreed teacher will come to the center for a half-day and provide the academic program using Texas Early Education Model materials and supplies. A mentor teacher hired by the school district will oversee and supervise the program.

“Overall, we’re seeing significantly greater gains with TEEM in children’s letter knowledge, print awareness and vocabulary,” said Susan Landry, Ph.D., director of the State Center for Early Childhood Development. “The results of TEEM are statistically robust enough to lead to meaningful improvements for the school-readiness of children.”

The State Center for Early Childhood Development at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston developed TEEM, a state-mandated effort to improve the school-readiness of children entering kindergarten. Center officials described the program as an education model for giving children from child care, Head Start and school district pre-kindergartens the tools necessary to become good readers and, eventually, better overall students.

The grant funding provides a full-time project coordinator for each community, research-based materials and books, a personal digital assistant (PDA) for each teacher to monitor children’s progress and in-depth professional development for teachers. Activities will support TEEM’s three critical components: research-based curriculum, professional development with in-class mentoring and children’s progress monitoring.

Senate Bill 23, passed during the last special session of the 79th Texas Legislature, made possible the expansion of TEEM into the 20 communities. A 2004 report to the Legislature showed that, in the first three months of TEEM, Spanish- and English-speaking children showed substantial gains in early literacy and language development. In particular, children improved in the areas that are most likely to predict reading success: vocabulary, letter knowledge and phonological knowledge — breaking sentences into words, hearing the beginning sounds of words and rhyming.

“It surprised me that we could get that kind of shift that quickly, but then we’ve never before TEEM been able to put all that together in the same approach,” said Landry, who also is Michael Matthew Knight Memorial Professor of Pediatrics at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

Landry is director of the Center for Improving the Readiness of Children for Learning and Education (CIRCLE), part of the UT Children’s Learning Institute, dedicated to research on children’s learning and influences on learning. The institute also includes the Center for Academic and Reading Skills (CARS) and Reach Out and Read-Texas.

Abilene and San Angelo were among the first 20 school districts that were funded for TEEM, and officials in those cities have been helpful as Brownwood began its planning, Knobel said. Recent funding has expanded the program into rural areas.

“Texas is leading the nation with this model, now in its fifth year and being implemented in more than 32 communities,” Knobel said. “It is proving to be a very beneficial program. The TEEM program provides the materials, supplies and the mentor teacher. The public school provides the Early Childhood degreed teacher and the center provides the classroom, the support teacher, food, enriched activities and the facility for the whole-day program This setup will especially benefit the working parents who have flexible schedules.”

The center is open from 5:45 a.m. until 10 p.m. and is available for 10 to 12 hours depending on work schedules.

Moss said participating in the program is “virtually required” for the district to continue to receive state funding for full-day kindergarten.