Ask 2-year-old Landon Pfannenstiel what he likes best about the weekly Starlets class and he will tell you he likes to play with toys. His mom, Clista, will add that he likes to learn about colors. Landon’s mother will also point out that he and his 3-year-old sister Izzy do not realize they are learning when they attend class at the Early Childhood Center in Maize South High School. They are simply concerned with having fun.
“They look forward to every single Wednesday,” Pfannenstiel said.
For the Pfannenstiels, the Parents as Teachers program is a family affair. Clista and her husband, Adam, a chiropractor practicing in Maize, have been involved in the Parents as Teachers program since they moved there in 2008. Since taking then 9-month-old Izzy to that first play group, the Pfannenstiels have enjoyed the opportunity to learn and interact with other parents and take part in their children’s education.
In addition to the weekly Starlets class, Landon is visited monthly by a certified parent educator who evaluates his development and provides his parents with tips on how to reinforce what he is learning.
“It honestly is one of the most valuable things that the school district can offer, not just for the kids,” she said.
Parents as Teachers programs across the state pair parents and their young children with parent educators who guide the child’s development through home visits, play groups and other activities. There are more than 60 Parents as Teachers programs in Kansas, including the Derby, Haysville, Goddard, Maize and Wichita school districts. Many of the services school districts offer are free.
A growing concern among school officials and legislators is how to fund these programs. The governor has proposed a 30 percent cut to the Parents as Teachers program statewide.
June Rempel, early childhood assistant principal and coordinator for the Maize district, said that although she worries about funding every year, she believes her district is supportive and able to match state funds.
“Districts are feeling a crunch everywhere, but I feel like our district supports early learning and I hope that the state of Kansas continues to support PAT at our current level,” she said.
Maize offers four weekly play groups in addition to the Starlets program and other programs. Rempel said Maize employs five part-time parent educators who see approximately 180 families participating in home visits.
Susan Damron, Parents as Teachers coordinator for the Goddard district, said her program has endured cuts over the past year, but not enough to make a noticeable difference in services.
“For the most part, most of the parents we see want the best for their children and want them to succeed. When they hear ‘parents and teachers program’ they jump on it,” Damron said. “They want that for their children and they want them to be involved.”
Last April Wichita school officials cut their match money for the Parents as Teachers program. The $465,000 cut amounted to half of the program’s annual budget.
“The impact of cuts to the Parents as Teachers program has been devastating to the early childhood education program as well as the families we are servicing,” said Hilary Koehn, program coordinator for Wichita Parents as Teachers.
Koehn said home visits have taken the biggest hit because of the cut. The Wichita program has also had to downsize the number of parent educators. Last year 13 were employed; now five serve more than 500 families with home visits.
“We have tried very, very hard not to cut any of the services that our families need,” Koehn said.
Koehn said the program has been asking for donations and supplies.
“We work with those kids from birth to five because we know so much learning is taking place,” Koehn said. “We’re not only working with that child, we’re working with that parent to be the very best parent that they can be and to help their child get the best start they possibly can.”