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New state education funding will allow YWCA York to expand its Pre-K Counts program, adding new options such as "mindful fathering." Lindsay C. VanAsdalan, The York Dispatch

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YWCA York celebrated an expansion of pre-K funding along with the opening of a new classroom — one of several to open across the commonwealth — on Wednesday, Oct. 3 .

An additional $25 million in funding was added to the state budget this year for early childhood education — $20 million going to PA Pre-K Counts programs and $5 million to Head Start Supplemental.

More: York lawmakers discuss accountability, education funding in state budget

More than 200 grants for Pre-K Counts were awarded for 2018-19, including six in York County — one of which was for YWCA York's program at 320 E. Market St., in York City.

Now the program, which serves families with incomes up to 300 percent above the poverty level and provides free tuition and subsidies or scholarships for before- or after-school care, can now accommodate 20 additional students.

Starting with five classrooms in 2007, the organization now has eight mixed-age classrooms for 145 students, ages 3 to 5, with all teachers certified in prenatal to fourth-grade education.

Every classroom is now fully funded by Pre-K Counts, except for five spots reserved for LIU students.

Family engagement: With new funding, the program can now offer family engagement in a culturally responsive way, said Ruby Martin, chief program officer at YWCA York.

After receiving training in Toronto on an evidence-based program that teaches fathers how to be mindful, staff will be able to bring their own mindful fathering program to YWCA classrooms, she said. 

More: York-based Logos Academy expands to Harrisburg

The YWCA also will be adding mindful parenting workshops, block parties, cultural dinners and supplements and specials to the curriculum, such as gymnastics, dance, swim and cooking with G's Jook Joint.

On Wednesday, students were working with the Weary Arts Group, which has locations in York Township and York City, on "Stunt Kids," learning techniques in parkour, which is a technique that gets people from one point to another in a complex environment using jumping, climbing, crawling and more.

"One of the things you read about Pre-K Counts is it prepares the children to enter the structured format of the school district," said Jean Treuthart, CEO of YWCA York.

But more importantly, she added, every single day teachers are seeing a love of learning from students.

"What I love seeing is not that we're getting them ready for structure but that we're just lighting the fire of curiosity and discovery," she said. "That seed is planted right here." 

More: York-area business leaders urge candidates to support pre-K push

Why invest? J.T. Hand, chief operating officer of The York Water Co. and former United Way board member and community leader, spoke about the importance of investing in early education.

"It's all about pre-hydration," he said to laughs, tying in the company's focus.

He said if you go on a long run, you pre-hydrate, and "early child education is the pre-hydration for our kids," preparing them for success in future employment.

Pennsylvania ranks 18th out of 30 states with investments in publicly funded pre-K programs, according to a news release.

Thirty-nine percent of the state's children benefit from publicly funded pre-K, meaning 106,000 are without access, the release states.

Kathy Moir, assistant executive director of Child Care Consultants, said of the county's estimated 30,0000 children age 5 and younger, only 12 percent are accessing high-quality education facilities that are publicly funded.

Child Care Works, which helps connect families with child care, still had 266 eligible York County children on the wait list for funding spots by the end of September — and some of them had been there for more than four months, she said. 

Pre-K Counts represents an incredible opportunity for at-risk children to learn social emotional skills and soft skills that will be important for being future employees, said Kristen Rotz, president of United Way of Pennsylvania.

And investment in these programs is important because it keeps families employed, Moir said.

"If they don't have secure child care for their children, they're more likely to leave the workforce and stay at home," she said.

Martin said the next step is to expand pre-K beyond the building as well as procure future state funding for their infant and toddler program.

"There's so much more that we can do," Moir said.

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