WRPS expands and centralizes early learning programming
By Kris Leonhardt
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – The Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools (WRPS) district will expand and centralize their programming for early learners for the 2021-22 school year.
“Some of our 4K sites are in the elementary buildings, and then there are some in community sites, and then some that are in Head Start locations. So right now our 4K program is in those different areas, and then our early childhood teachers either are located in the elementary school, or we have what is called an itinerant early childhood teacher who goes to those offsite locations to provide services,” explained WRPS Assistant Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jen Wilhorn
Current off-site locations include: a Head Start location, a 4K program at Building Blocks, the YMCA, St. Lawrence. School locations include: Mead, Grove, Woodside, Grant, and THINK elementary.
To help expand and centralize the programs, the district will utilize the Pitsch building, 501 17th St. South, Wisconsin Rapids, recently vacated by the Boys & Girls Club.
“At Pitsch next year, we will have four sections of 4K, and then five sections of early childhood,” Wilhorn explained.
“It’s currently been used for one 4K site, a three-year-old program of Building Blocks, and then our itinerant early childhood teacher has been housed there. That’s kind of been her base location.
“So, (Pitch) has been used minimally. Moving to next year, nearly the entire building will be filled.”
The WRPS early childhood programs have worked in close partnership with the Building Blocks child care center since the school program implemented its 4K services during the 2005-05 school year.
“Our 4K program very much provides our students with a social experience, and emphasis is put on the exposure to being with their peers, play-based learning, positive adult relationships; and then, there are some academic components that are woven through that – introduction to letters, numbers, shapes, colors – all of those basic concepts. But, they are ‘taught’ through a very play-based experience and a social experience,” Wilhorn added.
Program enrollment for the second Friday in January each year ranges around 300, but this year’s numbers reflect a slight decline: 2014-15, 307; 2015-16, 324; 2016-17, 308; 2017-18, 336; 2018-19, 302; 2019-20, 319, and 2020-21, currently at 266.
“Parents may be choosing to keep kids at home,” Wilhorn said, considering the 2020-21 environment.
Though the numbers are a bit lower, the expansion into Pitsch is more about efficiency and collaboration.
“We felt that having the Pitsch early learning center was just a more efficient use of our resources, but really will allow for collaboration among our early childhood and 4K teachers, like they’ve never had before. They’ve been on an island in their elementary building. There’s been no other early childhood or 4K teacher in that building to collaborate. So, they would have each other, but they wouldn’t have that professional learned community, like they will now have at Pitch,” said WRPS Director of Pupil Services Dani Scott.
Some programs will be pulled from Mead, Grove, Woodside, and Grant elementary and Building Blocks to centralize the early learning programs at the Pitsch building, including the 4K program and early childhood services.
The school hosts child development screenings to help assess the need for an early childhood program. The district also gets referrals from local agencies, pediatricians, and child care providers.
“Early childhood is for students ages 3-5 who have been identified with some type of educational disability—it could be a significant developmental delay, a speech and language delay; it could be some behavioral challenges. Certainly at that age, we don’t identify a specific learning disability for students that young…,” Scott added.
The school is currently being prepared for the coming school year, with all new technology and breakfast and snack service. Bus transportation will also be provided.
“We are striving to provide equitable services for our families, particularly perhaps our low income families who may not have access to some of those pre-literacy or pre-academic or even social opportunities. Research shows , the sooner that you are able to intervene the better off; so, I think that we are just trying to provide as much support services for our kids as we can,” Scott explained.
The district is still accepting applications for fall 4K program registration and screening services for early childhood programs.
For more information, visit www.wrps.org/schools/4k/index.cfm, or contact Wilhorn or Scott at 715-424-6700.