SR ELC (copy)

South Rome Early Learning Center teaching assistant Christine Frazier drops a ball onto a parachute during the first week of school in August 2018.

The first group of 3-year-olds who attended the South Rome Early Learning Center at Anna K. Davie Elementary School will reach third grade this year.

That’s an important milestone because it will give the first quantitative analysis of how the South Rome program is doing.

In any other year.

The COVID-19 pandemic means it is likely the third graders won’t have to take some of the standardized tests they would normally get. Director Teri Oberg said she had been looking forward to getting the first hard numbers.

Now, the number she’s interested in is the number of children enrolled for the upcoming school year, which is currently slated to begin along with Rome City Schools on Aug. 13. Oberg said she’s trying to get clearance from the school system to start Aug. 6.

The South Rome Early Learning Center, started in 2015, is a partnership between the South Rome Redevelopment Agency, Rome City Schools and Berry College.

Each of the children that has come through the program is being tracked as they go through the city or county schools.

“The initial data we’re getting, based on less formal assessments, is that our children are out-performing their peers.” Oberg said. “Teachers are telling us they can tell which kids have been in our program because they are leaders in the classroom.”

This year Oberg is capping enrollment at 16 students in each of the two classes. COVID-19 restrictions will be in place.

“Anybody that is 3 and up has to have a mask on if six feet is not possible,” Oberg said. “Three year-olds don’t social distance very well, so we are going to be wearing masks in the building.”

Oberg will take temperature checks every morning and parents will be asked screening questions to make sure the child is OK to be in school that day. Each child will have their own set of materials and will not be sharing crayons, scissors or play dough.

At this point, the program has 12 children signed up, Oberg said she is expecting five more slots to fill in short order, so nearly half of her slots are still open.

Children have to be 3 years old on or before Sept. 1 and must be fully potty trained.

Funding for the program was a challenge when it started five years ago, but Oberg said the community — particularly local business and industry leaders — have really stepped up with financial assistance. Tuition is $160 a week but the typical family only pays $35 to $95 a week.

The Georgia GOAL program has been a big help. It allows individual and corporate taxpayers to contribute to scholarship organizations in exchange for a state income tax credit. In turn, the organizations dole out scholarships to students from K-12 public schools so they can attend private schools chosen by their parents.

“That has been a game changer for us financially,” Oberg said.

Georgia CAPS — Childcare and Parent Services — has opened up another priority group to receive federal funding for a qualified childcare center. The program pays a significant part of the tuition for needy children of people who work in health care, law enforcement, child care, food processing and other essential occupations.

Anyone interested in enrolling their 3-year-old can call 706-314-6014 or email toberg@berry.edu.

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