PHOENIX — Educators across Arizona are working to make sure early learners are on track when it comes to learning inside the classroom.
State education officials say there are about 38,000 fewer students attending public schools in 2020-2021 compared to the previous school year.
State education officials also found that kindergarten and preschool programs accounted for about enrollment declines of 42% in the state with grades 8 through 12 seeing small increases in a statewide level compared to the previous school year.
The loss for early learners is seen inside elementary schools and private preschool programs.
For Ronnie Armstrong, Executive Director at Premier Children's Care near 35th Avenue and Greenway Road, they have seen a drop in their enrollment.
The drop in enrollment has temporarily shut down a Pre-K classroom as there are not enough four-year-olds.
There are several possible reasons for the drop in enrollment — one of them is likely parents working flexible work schedules, or staying home.
"We don't really know where all of them are right now. I think it's much easier for working parents to have a four-year-old at home than a two-year-old," said Armstrong.
Premier Children's Care has combined its Pre-K classroom with another age group so they can continue their curriculum for early learners.
Ms. Deb Rilley, a Kindergarten teacher at Estrella Mountain Elementary School in Goodyear, said a chunk of the students that came to her classroom this year did not recognize letters.
"We worked on all the sounds, and now we're putting sounds together and making words," she said.
Rilley said she is confident that the kindergartners will be on track for the net grade level.
Ms. Carrie Jones, a first-grade teacher at Estrella Mountain, said her kids in the classroom missed out on some of the basics from kindergarten as they were learning remotely.
Ms. Jones and the other first-grade teachers are working as creatively as they can to get these kids ready for second grade. "We keep doing what we're doing, we keep our expectations high, so we know where they need to be at the end of this grade level. We're constantly shooting for that line."
Armstrong hopes that parents recognize how important early learning is for four-year-olds, and they won't delay enrollment. "I'm hoping parents start thinking,'oh my gosh, August is around the corner.'"