By Kimberly Wallis

Often, our transitioning military families aren’t even aware that everyone is encouraged to apply for early childhood education programs (ECE) at Fort Polk.  Although local public programs are specifically geared toward lower income families, there may be additional spaces available for children from families with higher earnings, potentially making the time spent on the application process well worth it!

A child plays with different toys as a fun way to work on building his gross motor skills at an early childhood education program in the Vernon Parish School District.

While we may hate the thought of our babies growing up too fast, early childhood education (ECE) allows parents to provide financially while still being part of a team working to put their child on the path to success during their entire educational journey. Many dual earner and single parent families alike take advantage of the affordable, high quality daycare programs offered locally to get help with providing the basic skills their children need before entering Kindergarten.

Studies show long-term benefits of ECE include being more likely to graduate high school, attend college, less likely to be incarcerated, less likely to require public assistance, and earning higher wages. Recognizing the importance of early education as a long term solution towards combating low education rankings and high poverty levels, Louisiana legislators recently advanced a bill making the Early Childhood Care and Education Commission permanent and Governor John Bel Edwards’ agenda called for more funding at every level of education, including ECE.

Charlie sports a huge smile on the swings during outside play time at his Vernon Parish early childhood education program.

Socialization is another benefit to enrolling, especially if you’re new to an area! It’s always nice to get to know others in the area with kids the same age as yours. 

Just as children are presented with socialization opportunities they might not otherwise have, parents gain access to information about other beneficial community services through interaction with both school staff and other parents. For instance, children are monitored to ensure they are meeting developmental milestones in order to help parents seek early intervention when necessary. Special needs children are also served in these programs.

A child, participating in a Vernon Parish early childhood educational program, plays outside.

There are two programs offered at the two school districts that service Fort Polk. Louisiana’s primary preschool program, Cecil J. Picard LA4, provides full day pre-K in public schools to four-year-olds from disadvantaged families. Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children aged birth through five from low-income families. 

Myles partners with a friend to create a colorful garden scene at their Vernon Parish early childhood education program.

Vernon Parish Head Start and  Beauregard Parish Head Start both offer child development programs for children from age 3 to 4 years old and Early Head Start for children from birth to 3 years old. Please note that transportation is not available in Beauregard Parish School District and Vernon Parish School District only provides school buses for 4 year olds.

Filling out the application does not guarantee your child will be able to attend. However, an incomplete application or lack of required documentation may lengthen the process or even disqualify your child. Be sure to check with each program for which you are applying about what you’ll need! The links to each district have been provided in the preceding paragraph to make it easier to check out what you’ll need and where it’s offered.

Layla smiles about the books on display at her Vernon Parish School District early childhood education program.

In the Vernon Parish School District, applications are conveniently located outside the office at 1409 South 4th Street in Leesville. You can fill it out at your convenience but must turn it in between 8:30-11:30 AM, Monday through Thursday. For more information, call the VPSB HS & B5 office at 337-239-6899.

In the Beauregard Parish School District, rated highly proficient for overall measures of classroom quality by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), you complete this online application. For more information, call (337) 463-5905. 

A child enjoys a Hatch tablet utilized as part of the early childhood educational program in the Vernon Parish School District.
Josiah enjoys his treats during snack time at the early childhood education program he attends in Vernon Parish.

Sending your child off to school can be hard on some parents (especially first timers!) but parental involvement is actually encouraged and helps with fostering a lifelong love of learning in your child. So when you apply, be sure to check out the volunteer opportunities available for parents as well!