This article has been updated to correct the location of Winchester's three Head Start classrooms.
The foundation, which formed in July 2018 to support public school students in Winchester, Fairfax County and Dorchester County, Maryland, has funded the hiring of a second person to support teachers in the city's Virginia Pre-Kindergarten Initiative (VPI) program and paid for an additional classroom to accommodate more VPI students.
Matthew Peterson, executive director of the J2W Foundation in Winchester, said the city school system previously had one quality coach to oversee instructors in eight VPI classrooms in the city's four elementary schools, serving a total of 144 pre-school students. Hiring a second quality coach through a three-year grant from the foundation means those instructors will have greater support and guidance.
"The goal of the foundation is to level the playing field and improve equity for low-income kids in the school districts we're supporting," Peterson said.
Additionally, monetary assistance from the foundation has made it possible for Winchester Public Schools to open a ninth VPI classroom to serve an additional 18 students, starting when the new school year begins on Thursday.
The J2W Foundation is also working with the national Head Start early intervention program overseen in the Winchester area by Abingdon-based People Incorporated of Virginia Child and Family Development (People Inc.), which currently operates a total of three Head Start classrooms at Frederick Douglass Elementary School that serve 51 children. Starting this fall, the new quality coach funded by J2W will work with the Head Start classrooms in the subsidized daycare centers plus one VPI classroom operated by Winchester Public Schools, Peterson said.
VPI and Head Start both focus primarily on 4-year-old children from low-income or otherwise disadvantaged families who may not have access to the same educational resources as other kids. Peterson estimated that two-thirds of Winchester's preschool children could qualify for the programs based on family income levels or other factors such as having a relative with a disability or substance abuse disorder, being raised by a person who is not a parent, living in a home where English is not the primary spoken language and more.
"All kids deserve a chance to start kindergarten on a level playing field," said Angie Cain, early childhood coordinator for Winchester Public Schools. "Without the finances to pay for private preschool, our families count on us (VPI and Head Start) to provide those resources and support. With the two agencies working together ... we're really trying to meet the needs of our community."
The nine VPI classrooms and three Head Start classrooms will serve a total of 213 4-year-olds in Winchester, which Peterson said is "getting close" to the number of preschoolers who need the programs each year.
At any given time, he said, Winchester is home to approximately 330 to 350 4-year-olds. Based on the number of elementary students in Winchester who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches, Peterson estimates 220 to 230 of those 4-year-olds would qualify for the VPI and Head Start programs.
Now that more classroom space is available, officials said they need to make sure they're reaching all the local families whose children could benefit from the programs.
"This is quality child care that's educational," said Amy Compton, director of child and family development for People Inc.'s Head Start programs in Winchester, Frederick County and Clarke County. "It's a really good perk at no cost to you, something that folks should really take advantage of."
Registration is underway for both the VPI and Head Start programs in Winchester. VPI classes start on Thursday and Head Start sessions begin on Sept. 7, but signups will be accepted until all slots are filled.
To learn more about VPI registration, contact Cain at email@example.com or 540-667-4253, ext. 12121. For more information about Head Start registration in Winchester, call 276-619-2213 or visit the Winchester Head Start Center at 100 W. Cedarmeade Ave.