The waitlist is gone and seats are open.
Albemarle County still has seats available in its free preschool programs for children who will be 4 years old by Sept. 30.
The Bright Stars preschool program typically has a waitlist, but the program is back to full capacity since pandemic restrictions have lifted with 208 seats for 4-year-olds. As of this week, 55 to 70 slots are still open.
Coordinator Lisa Molinaro said a recent change in the application might be behind the lagging enrollment.
“As the year gets closer to starting, we really are trying very, very hard to ensure that every child who’s sitting out there who is 4 years old or will be 4 by Sept. 30 has a place to go to preschool,” she said.
Albemarle County’s Bright Stars and other free area preschool programs, including Charlottesville City and MACAA Head Start, use a joint application through Go2Grow.com to determine whether a family is eligible and help ensure families can access the right program.
However, this is the first school year since the pandemic began that the organizers were relying on an online-only application. Historically, there also was a paper version available at the schools.
“We believe that a lot of our families who were used to seeing paper applications may not necessarily be aware of how to go and apply to any one of our preschool programs,” Molinaro said.
To boost enrollment, Molinaro said the school division will hold a series of fairs at county elementary schools this month, starting with Scottsville Elementary on July 20. Staff members will be on site from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. to help families fill out the online-only application through Go2Grow.com.
“I think people really love the idea of a free preschool experience for their children,” Molinaro said on Monday. “They’re just not sure where to go and how to go about it.”
Albemarle has Bright Stars classrooms at Agnor-Hurt, Greer, Mountain View, Red Hill, Scottsville, Stone-Robinson and Woodbrook elementary schools. Translators will be on site at the recruitment events.
Mountain View’s recruitment event will be July 21 while Greer’s will be July 22. Then on July 27, fairs will be held at Agnor-Hurt, Red Hill and Stone-Robinson. All events run from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Woodbrook’s fair will be July 29.
Interested families are encouraged to stop by their child’s school on the day of the event to learn more about preschool and fill out an application, which is used to determine a family’s eligibility. They should bring a 2021 W-2 or three consecutive pay checks along with a lease or mortgage.
Bright Stars is one of several preschool offerings in the county school division. Other options include Head Start and Early Childhood Special Education.
Preschool classes in Albemarle County, Charlottesville City, and MACAA Head Start are free and open to families who meet certain eligibility requirements. The programs are aimed at helping children who are at risk of starting kindergarten behind their peers.
“Anything that puts a child on a less level playing field,” Molinaro said. “The whole intent is kindergarten readiness.”
Charlottesville’s preschool program is mostly full, coordinator Sheila Sparks wrote in an email. Classes for 3-year-olds are about full while there about 26 openings in the 4-year-old classes.
There are seats available in some of Head Start’s classrooms, which are open to children who are 3 or 4 years old. MACAA Head Start serves children in Charlottesville as well as those in the counties of Albemarle, Louisa, Fluvanna, and Nelson.
The application is coordinated by the United Way of Greater Charlottesville. The organization has two staff members who will help families fill out an application and find them a preschool program in the area that works for them.
Molinaro said as long as families who are interested in preschool give their name and contact information in the application, United Way will be in touch to assist with the rest of the form.
Molinaro said one of the lessons learned as part of the new application is that families might not understand why United Way is contacting them to talk about preschool.
“There’s these nuances that we are learning and finding out about,” she said. “We’ll certainly address it as we move forward.”
That’s why she thinks the recruitment fairs will help.
“We feel like doing the recruitment fairs in our schools could be very beneficial to families who want the support,” she said. “But if they just go to go2grow.com, and type in their name and their address and their phone number, we will get back to them.”