A variety of early learning programs in Higley Unified are giving kids a bright start

Gilbert, AZ | Submitted by Patti Gleason

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A certified teacher in every class. Kids learning Spanish and practicing Mandarin. Specialty programs for gifted youth. Higley Unified School District has gone well beyond traditional early learning settings with their specialty preschools.

And it’s not without good reason – children’s brains are developing rapidly in the first few years of life, and their exposure to language and other learning opportunities will pay dividends in the future.

Unfortunately, only one in five Arizona 3 and 4 year olds are enrolled in quality early learning settings. The Arizona Education Progress Meter is tracking this and aims to increase this to 45 percent by the year 2030.

At Higley Unified – a small district primarily serving students in Gilbert – they’re building a strong pathway from preschool to high school by supporting students the way they learn. District leadership had a vision to create child-centric classrooms for the youngest learners in their community. Well-equipped and staffed by both a certified teacher and a paraprofessional, their classes are serving more than 800 students this year alone. The district was willing to invest heavily in the effort, since they need to reach the whole child to impact physical, cognitive and social-emotional learning and get them a solid foundation for future learning.

Beyond the standard preschool classrooms, Higley offers special language learning opportunities, including Mandarin and Spanish. Both feed into schools for continued language growth and are open to any interested students. And gifted youth who meet the IQ requirement can participate in the district’s accelerated program. The personalized approach engages innovative thinking and prepares youth for continued growth.

The programs are proving so popular that Higley will open eight new classrooms next year. Because 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed by the age of 5, it’s important to introduce experiences and knowledge before then. And their classes are having the desired effect – kindergarten teachers in the district can quickly identify which of their new pupils have participated in preschool, as they are much more prepared to learn and grow in a classroom setting.

The district is enrolling students. Interested families can visit the Cooley Early Childhood Development Center or the Sossaman Early Childhood Development Center.

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