GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Jennifer Newberg, a preschool teacher at CA Frost Environmental Science Academy Elementary, is in her 7th year at her current school and 15th year of teaching in GRPS.

“I love preschoolers’ curiosity and enthusiasm for learning,” she said. “It’s so fun to learn alongside them and see where their interests take them during the school day. We get to play every day.”

Over at Aberdeen Academy, preschool teacher Tammy Johnson is in her 41st year of teaching and, like Newberg, still loves the joy and energy that her young scholars bring to her classroom each day.

“I love my preschoolers’ excitement and spontaneity for all things,” she said. “They are so eager and willing to try. And I think that people would be surprised to the extent that preschoolers are such able learners about everything.”

That last comment is an important one said Kelly A. Gerlinger, the GRPS Director of Early Childhood Programs.

“Learning in a Grand Rapids Public Schools preschool prepares children to be successful in kindergarten and beyond,” she said. “Preschool is the essential first step in a child's lifelong education.”

GRPS preschool is part of the Great Start Readiness Program, a state-funded, full-day free preschool program for qualifying four-year-old children. It includes both an approved curriculum and an assessment tool called COR, or Child Observation Record, where teachers collect data three times a year and check on the progression that the children are making.

The curriculum, Gerlinger added, is a newer one and approved by the State of Michigan. It’s well-researched and developmentally appropriate for preschool-aged children. It also has been adopted by all of Kent County so that children who might start out at one program and then transition to another program, continue to receive the same high-quality education.

GRPS offers its full-day preschool Mondays through Thursdays on the same bell schedule at 24 elementary schools in Grand Rapids.

Each of those 24 locations will open its door to prospective parents and scholars on Friday, April 28 from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for Preschool Here I Come, an open house event intended to allow parents to meet teachers, see the classrooms and learn more about what GRPS can offer their preschooler. Families who are in the application process will also be able to drop off any needed forms (things like immunization records) at any of the GRPS preschool locations they might choose to visit on April 28, and GRPS staff will make sure those forms get uploaded to the family files online.

Gerlinger said that during the pandemic preschool numbers in GRPS and across the county dropped but are starting to rebound now. The district had just over 500 preschool scholars this year and is hoping to see that number go over 600 next year, part of the reason for the open house event on April 28.

Aberdeen’s Johnson and CA Frost’s Newberg can’t wait to talk to parents about what their children will experience in GRPS schools.

“The Great Start Readiness Program is such a wonderful first experience for families to give their child,” said Newberg. “All of our district teachers are excited to form a partnership with families.”

Johnson agreed.

“Preschool is a wonderful age,” said Johnson. “They want to learn and soak up all the knowledge and experiences that we provide for them in a play-based, whole-child-centered curriculum.”