Blog

By Marsha Basloe, President, and Linda Chappel, Sr. Vice President, Child Care Services Association

This past week, Durham PreK’s new website launched as a place for Durham County families to find information about enrolling 4-year-old children in Durham PreK, to find other local resources related to early childhood development and to learn about Durham’s commitment to equitable, high-quality education for all young children.

What is Durham PreK?

Durham PreK classrooms are located in private child care centers, Durham Public Schools and Head Start classrooms. With funding from the Durham County Board of Commissioners, the intent is to both enhance the quality of preschool programs and expand the number of children served through state and federally funded preschool programs. The goal is universal public PreK for all Durham County 4-year-old children – with preschool services offered for free for families with income at or below 300% of the federal poverty threshold and a sliding fee scale for families with income above 300% of poverty.

Why is pre-K important for young children?

Studies show that children who attend full-day high-quality pre-K programs are much more likely to start school with the skills to succeed, much more likely to perform at grade level and much more likely to graduate high school. A 2017 State of Durham County’s Young Children report found that only 38% of Durham children entering kindergarten had preliteracy skills at grade level (i.e., 62% of Durham children started kindergarten behind).

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recently released third-grade end of year test scores for those children who were in kindergarten in 2014-2015. For Durham, the gaps in grade level reading are enormous – by income, by race and by ethnicity. It’s easy to connect the dots. When children don’t start kindergarten ready to succeed, despite remediation efforts, the competency gaps remain. Children don’t fall behind in third grade, they start behind in kindergarten.

We can do better to prepare our children for school (and life)

That’s the message behind Durham PreK. Child Care Services Association is the management agency for Durham PreK and works collaboratively with Durham County Government, Durham’s Partnership for Children, Durham Public Schools, Durham Head Start and numerous other community partners to expand access to high-quality pre-K classrooms for Durham’s 4-year-olds.

County funding is used to not only serve more children but also to broaden eligibility for children to participate and to work with teachers and private centers to strengthen their quality through teacher and director support, mentoring and coaching. Going beyond licensing standards and NC Pre-K standards, Durham PreK provides instruction and coaching to strengthen the interactions between teachers and children.

Research shows that gains made across child development domains are higher when teacher interactions are more effective, intentional and geared toward the development of critical thinking skills and social-emotional development in children.[1]

Using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®)

The professional development tool used in Durham PreK is called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®) developed by the University of Virginia and used in 23 state quality rating and improvement systems, many state and local public pre-K programs, and by every Head Start program across the country.[2]

CLASS is both an assessment system and a professional development coaching system. Studies have consistently demonstrated greater gains by children (including dual language learning children) in key areas of school readiness – including literacy, math, social-emotional development and self-regulation when children are in classrooms with more effective teacher-child interactions. International research demonstrates the validity of CLASS across a broad set of cultural contexts.[3]

Offering braided funding options

What makes Durham PreK unique is the community has all leaned in to make a difference for children. Where possible, funding is braided so a mix of funding supports classrooms, which promotes greater diversity among participating children. Every child receives a developmental screening, and screening results, general program eligibility, parent preference and distance from home are all taken into consideration during the child placement process.

For programs to be eligible to participate in Durham PreK, they must be a 5-star rated child care center, lead pre-K teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and either have or be working toward a Birth to Kindergarten license. Onsite curriculum implementation support, professional development and education planning, teacher improvement strategies tied to CLASS®, leadership development for program directors and other supports for continuous quality improvement are provided.

Durham PreK’s plan to expand

Estimates are that there are about 4,450 4-year-old children in Durham.[4]  In the 2019-2020 school year, the intent is for 1,200 children to participate in public pre-K, an increase of about 245 children from last year. The overall goal over the next few years is to expand each year so that Durham PreK will be available to all families with 4-year-old children who choose to participate.

There are still some open spots for children. If you have a child who turned 4-years-old by August 31 or if you know a family with a 4-year-old, let them know – Durham PreK is open for business. To complete an application, call 919-403-6960 to speak to a coordinator (bilingual support is available), or you can download the Universal Preschool Application here

If we all lean in, all our children can enter kindergarten ready to succeed!


[1] Effective Teacher-Child Interactions and Child Outcomes: A Summary of Research on the Classroom  Assessment  Scoring System (CLASS®) Pre-K–3rd Grade (2017).

[2] CLASS®: A Leading QRIS Standard (2019).

[3] Teachstone research summary (2019)

[4] Voluntary, Universal Pre-kindergarten in Durham County How Do We Get There From Here? By Durham’s Community Early Education/Preschool Task Force.

Written by Kay Ducharme, Regional CCR&R Senior Manager at CCSA

Becoming a Gigi

Guess what? I finally became a grandmother! Over the past three years, I have had the honor of becoming a grandmother (or Gigi, as my oldest granddaughter Mila calls me) to three little girls. I used to wonder why my friends never seemed to have time for me anymore after they had grandchildren. I actually found myself feeling sorry for some of them because they were always consumed with babysitting when I wanted to go do fun things on weekends. Now, I understand. “Mila adventures” occur on my weekends now, and I love every minute of them. I find myself doing things such as going to the kiddie splash pad, brushing billy goats, riding carousels, planting flowers, visiting playgrounds, shopping for shoes and other weekend girly things. We have gone through so many things, such as potty training, sleep issues, screen time limits, visits to petting farms and zoos, being gentle with animals, learning to walk dogs, etc.

Not Now, Gigi, I’m Busy Writing My Dissertation!

As a former preschool teacher many years ago, I was fascinated with language development. As I worked with young children, I tended to focus on language skills, and obviously do the same with my grandchildren. My oldest daughter is trying to finish her Ph.D. and is on the last leg of completing her dissertation. She called me the other day and told me Mila’s teacher had just called saying that Mila had been standing over a whiteboard. The teacher asked Mila why she was standing up to write. Mila’s reply was, “I am working on my dissertation.” I have heard Mila say that she was working on her dissertation many times and didn’t even think about it being different because this dissertation is something we talk about frequently in our family.

As a result of being a Gigi, I have a renewed appreciation of what we do at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) for parents, young children and early care and education professionals. I am keenly aware of child care deserts for infants and toddlers, the cost of child care and the navigation systems that parents use to unravel the mystery of child care for their young children. I have visited and observed child care programs as a Gigi and talked with teachers about their days and how things work in their programs. I am amazed at how much they are accomplishing. I see new things that Mila learns at her preschool every week and am in total awe of her development, but most of all those language skills.

Talking Power

Mila really doesn’t know what a dissertation is, but she does know that it involves writing. No one actually prompted Mila to say the word but obviously has heard it numerous times at home, and it just comes naturally.

As I watch my younger grandchildren learning language skills, I am reminded of what we need to do even with young infants. We respond to their crying at first because we want to understand what they are trying to tell us. This takes practice, but if you really pay attention, you will understand. When they begin babbling, we imitate their sounds and help them learn new ones.

Recently, I listened to my younger granddaughters as they were learning to make sounds and navigate through the house by crawling or walking around wobbling from side to side. One of them kept repeating the “B” and “M” sounds that she had just learned, and her mother would imitate her attempts. They had great games going back and forth, and truly there was a lot of glee and bonding! Finally, she started saying “momma” by the end of the week, and this week she has learned to follow directions and kiss her momma when prompted. 

Young children, as we all know, do repeat what they hear and imitate what they see. Conversations with parents aid in language development and nurtures learning. Talk at home is a powerful tool in the development of language and communication skills. Talking with babies and young children in natural tones and modeling the words that we want them to adopt is extremely important. Instead of teaching Mila the word “dissertation,” we used the word many times while we were around her. It is meaningful to her. Hopefully one day, she will write a real “dissertation” as she explores her own world! 

When around young children, it is important to relax and talk to them. Children are listening and understand much more than we sometimes give them credit for. Making them perform their new language skills can sometimes make them clam up, so be careful that you are not asking for performances.  

Remember that play and language development go hand-in-hand. A great deal of language is developed through pretend play. Give them lots of opportunities to talk, sing and read books. Reading books with rhyming words and sounds, or singing songs are great ways to develop language skills. 

Sometimes language skills emerge over a long period of time and sometimes they emerge overnight. All children are different and develop at their own pace. The conversations we have with children nurture their development and learning. Our talk at home and in preschool settings is a powerful tool in the development of young children. 

5 Power Tools to Help Develop Your Skills in Expanding Language

Here are a few ideas for helping young children develop language skills:

  1. Talk naturally in your authentic voice;
  2. Tell stories, sing, read books, ask questions;
  3. Sometimes just be silly with songs, books, and words;
  4. When they point at a ball, expand on it and make a sentence out of the word they used or object they pointed out; and
  5. Add colors, prepositions or numbers of objects in everyday language (i.e. “We are going to climb up 7 brown steps now”). Numbers, prepositions, colors and words used will all become a natural part of their vocabulary.

They are soaking it all in and learn so much from you. Your words are truly powerful! Model the language that you want them to use and you can create learning opportunities wherever you go or whatever you are doing with children. Enjoy them. They grow up too fast!

Thank you to Kristen Siarzynski and Kathryn DeLorenzo for the photographs of Kay’s grandchildren.