Enrollment for Great Start Readiness Program is open for students in Genesee County

FLINT, Michigan — Finding the right type of school for your child can seem overwhelming, especially when they’re the youngest type of learner, around four years old. Selecting the right type of educational foundation can positively impact a student’s academic journey. Access to quality and affordable childcare and preschool is an essential need for many. 

To better prepare their children for kindergarten readiness, many families elect a preschool program, noting its multiple benefits. Unfortunately, many childcare centers and schools are at capacity, dealing with staff shortages, and have waitlists for new student enrollment.

If you’ve experienced barriers when it comes to childcare or early education options, there are local resources and programs available to help Greater Flint residents. 

As part of the Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD), the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) provides a low to no-cost, high-quality preschool program. The program is for four-year-olds and is available in Clio, Davison, Flint, and other areas throughout the county. Open spots are still available. 

Flintside had the opportunity to speak with GSRP Coordinator, Coley Barkey-Rowlands to learn more about the opportunities that exist for young learners, and how parents can sign their child up for a low or no-cost, high-quality preschool program.

Flintside: Can you tell me a little about what your job entails? 

Coley Barkey-Rowlands: "My job is to support, monitor, and grow our Great Start Readiness Programs across the county. I ensure that there are effective
systems in place to support subrecipients and oversee the ‘big picture’ of how GSRP can best serve the children and families in Genesee County. I work closely with center directors, local school districts, and charter schools to help them administer the program as well as participate in the Great Start Collaborative to help all children effectively prepare for their higher K-12 education."

Flintside: Can you explain the Great Start to Quality rating system?

Coley Barkey-Rowlands: "The Great Start to Quality System is a cycle of improvement that each licensed childcare provider in the state can participate in. It is a system Michigan uses to recognize and help licensed programs improve the quality of care that they are providing.

There are five different stages to the process including maintaining health and safety standards, reflecting on quality, enhancing quality, enhancing quality-validated, and demonstrating quality. It is a process of quality improvement that never ends. All GSRP classrooms must be at a minimum stage of enhancing quality, however, most of them are further along in the process."

Flintside: Can you tell me about the GSRP and its mission? 

Coley Barkey-Rowlands: "GSRP is Michigan’s state-funded preschool program for four-year-old children who are planning on attending kindergarten the following school year. GSRP provides developmentally appropriate learning opportunities in combination with strong teacher-family-community relationships to create a foundation for lifelong education. The program uses a balance of child-initiated and teacher-directed approaches to support each child’s academic, cognitive, and social-emotional learning."

Flintside: When did the program start? And is it part of a larger, national effort?

Coley Barkey-Rowlands: "The program started in the 1985-1986 school year with $1 million in funding under the name Michigan School Readiness Program (MSRP). The name changed to GSRP in 2008-2009, and then in 2012-2013, Intermediate School Districts assumed responsibility as the grantee. The Michigan GSRP is a nationally-recognized preschool program that is among five states ranked as the highest-quality programs in the nation, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research."

Flintside: What are the benefits of GSRP, and in general, preschool for young children?

Coley Barkey-Rowlands: "One of the main benefits of the program is the early exposure to academic concepts, however, it is also important for children this age to have the ability to experience a classroom environment and learn how to function in that environment independently. The children are taught how to interact with peers, solve problems, and build a foundation of knowledge that will carry them through their educational journey. 

Research, specifically done on GSRP, indicated that children provided with high-quality preschool experiences showed significant positive developmental differences and later life success compared to children from the same backgrounds who did not attend a high-quality preschool program."

Flintside: Are there full-day, half-day options, or a mix of both?

Coley Barkey-Rowlands: "There is a mix of both full and half-day options throughout the county. Traditionally, GSRP is a program held four days a week. However, this year, we have multiple locations starting to offer programming five days a week." 

Flintside: What do parents need to know about the program’s requirements to sign up?

Coley Barkey-Rowlands: "GSRP is primarily focused on preschool children who will be four by Sept. 1, and whose families fall between 100-300% of the federal poverty level. 

The program is aimed at students to attend the year before they are eligible for kindergarten. There are exceptions for children turning four before Dec.1, however, students are still prioritized based on the original factors. These exceptions include whether the child is planning to attend kindergarten the following year and has additional risk factors such as a disability or developmental delay, severe or challenging behavior, dual language learning, low parental educational attainment, abuse/neglect of child or parent, or other environmental risk factors."

Flintside: How much does it cost? And are there scholarships available?

Coley Barkey-Rowlands: "For qualifying families, GSRP is a free program. All meals, field trips, and additional enhancement experiences are covered by the grant. For those families that are over the qualifying income level, there is a small sliding scale cost in which they are responsible to pay. This cost is based on the families’ income and a small percentage of what the state allocates for that student for the entire year."

Flintside: When and how can parents sign up their children?

Coley Barkey-Rowlands: "We still have openings for the 2023-2024 school year. Enrollment for the 2024-2025 school year will begin after March 1, 2024. Families can visit the website for more information about the program, and to fill out an application." 

Flintside: Anything else you’d like to add?

Coley Barkey-Rowlands: "Thank you for helping the GISD build awareness of this
program. We believe there are many families that don’t realize this program is available to them."

For more information about the Great Start Readiness Program, and to fill out an application, visit: geneseeisd.org/early_childhood/great_start_readiness
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Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.