AUTHOR: Connie Schulz
AGENCY: Park Forest Preschool
Park Forest Preschool (PFP), a tuition-free preschool for income eligible families, opened in 1967 as a grassroots outreach to the community in space donated by the Park Forest United Methodist Church. Originally named the Park Forest Day Nursery, it was a small, 12 weeks per year program whose aim was to help prepare children for a successful start in kindergarten. They recruited children from families who otherwise could not afford to send their children to preschool.
During the 1970s and 1980s, with the support of many volunteers and local donors, and collaborations with county service providers, the program thrived. Many social services were added to support the children and their families. These included: parent education classes; an emergency fund to help families with unexpected expenses; free, gently used clothing; medical, dental, and vision screening; and, nutritious breakfasts and lunches.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the preschool’s curriculum continued to be enhanced, and the school became an agency of the Centre County United Way. Community support has enabled operations to increase to 33 weeks per year, with an enrollment of 36 children. Classes for 2 year-olds were added, so the preschool began serving 2, 3 and 4-year-olds.
The preschool recently became state licensed by the PA Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL). The process to become state licensed requires trainings for the director and staff, a self-evaluation of the facility, a comprehensive report, and an in-person evaluation/inspection. PFP earned their provisional license in August, 2021, and the full license in February, 2022. In-person evaluations for renewal will be completed annually.
Along with licensure comes a STAR 1 rating in Pennsylvania’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS); Keystone STARS. STARS is a continuous quality improvement approach to assess, improve, and communicate the level of quality in early and school-age care and education programs. It is a four STAR rating system; PFP is already working towards a STAR 2 rating.
Becoming licensed was a cooperative effort among the program director, the teachers and the Board of Directors. Donations and support from local faith groups, civic organizations, individual donors, and dedicated volunteers continue to help operate the program, now in its 56th year of operation. Over the years, the growth of the program and its vision and mission have been steered by a series of dedicated staff and leaders, including directors, volunteers and board members whose tireless work has made the preschool become what it is today. We are fortunate and thankful to have such a great team at Park Forest Preschool who are committed to the high-quality standards and worked diligently to achieve this recognition.