Camden Teachers Are On A Mission For Higher Enrollment

By: Morgan Reitzel, Follow South Jersey Intern

CAMDEN N.J. – Camden educators at the Martha F. Wilson Early Childhood Development Center are going door-to-door recruiting children ages three through five to enroll in free, full-day preschool for the new 2023-2024 school year to ensure their state funding by October 15. 

Their mission is to enroll at least 1,100 more children to add to the 1,059 preschool students already enrolled.

This is no small feat for the educators as they carry yard signs and pamphlets while knocking on strangers doors in the smoldering summer heat. 

Only 1,835 preschoolers were enrolled within the Camden School District and only 400 students at the Child Development Center houses for the 2022-2023 school year. 

The reason for the low enrollment numbers: The COVID-19 Pandemic. Before the pandemic, there were 2,167 students enrolled at the Martha F. Wilson Early Childhood Development Center for the 2019-2020 school year. 

Tanya Gillespie-Lambert, a community and parent involvement specialist for early childhood education, held a short meeting with 24 teachers and education specialists to plan how they were going to increase the enrollment at the school. As a result, the educators dedicated to knocking door-to-door, having a pep rally, and handing out flyers to everyone in the neighborhood could be the key to informing people on what the school has to offer. Some people are unaware of the program and believe that their child has to be potty trained before enrolling which is not true. To add, some did not realize that their child could be enrolled at the age of three. 

“Nobody seems to know about this treasure gem,” said Gillespie-Lambert. 

A full day at preschool typically runs from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. serving the children both breakfast and lunch with classes taught by certified teachers. Additionally, since the preschool is offering enrollment for free, parents can get free child care and work while their child learns. Significantly, the program helps students with their emotional and social learning, motor skills, self-esteem building, and teaches them how to get along with others. 

According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article, “children who attend quality preschool typically will have higher math and reading skills, are better prepared for kindergarten, behave better in class, and are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college. Disadvantaged kids and English language learners often make the most gains, studies show.” 

Teachers believed that the district will likely meet its goal and be able to obtain their state funding by the deadline by educating the public on the preschool. 

For years, Camden has had free preschool options as a result of state funding and the supreme court case Abbott v. Burke. The court case’s goal was to level the playing field between lower-income and higher-income districts.

The article stated that “Gov. Phil Murphy wants to expand free, public, full-day preschool to every district in the state and has increased aid to help districts implement it. He has acknowledged that universal preschool for every eligible 3- and 4-year-old could take several years. Without additional state aid, some districts have started half-day programs that charge tuition.” 

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