Prince George’s County Public Schools is looking to expand early childhood education to reach more students as part of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a statewide education reform plan.

Andreia Searcy, PGCPS’ early learning director, presented the county’s prekindergarten plan to the county council’s education and workforce development committee on Monday. The expansion plan proposes adding 18 pre-K classes by the 2029 school year. The county currently has 112 public pre-K providers and offers nearly 4,500 seats.

Searcy said the plan involves partnerships between the public school system and private childcare providers. Private education providers who received state grants will offer free pre-K seats to families in the county, she added.

“We offer professional development to their teachers, services and support for special education [and] ESOL students,” Searcy said. “There is a partnership between us that ensures that they’re learning and their experiences within their childcare centers are the same as the public school system.”

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The expansion also proposes opening the Riverdale Early Childhood Center in the current location of the county’s Latin American Youth Center. The new early childhood center will utilize half of the building space for pre-K classes, Searcy said, and leave the remaining half for the youth center.

Twenty-two PGCPS elementary schools are also currently undergoing Maryland’s accreditation process, which will also impact their ability to offer pre-K programs in future school years.

Tonya Sweat, a PGCPS parent, feels that students who begin their education at 3-years-old have a “much better chance” at learning basic skills.

“If they had that basic foundation, once they get to their primary school or the elementary school, they tend to do much better at learning,” Sweat said.

The plan under the Blueprint also proposes opening several new Judy Center Early Learning Hubs throughout the county. Judy Centers provide full-day care and educational resources for children from birth to age five, according to Maryland’s education department.

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In addition to offering diapers, food and other physical resources, Judy Centers offer playgroups for families, allowing families to learn “how to work with their youngest learners to prepare them for school readiness,” Searcy said.

PGCPS operates five Judy Centers already, according to the district’s website.

Advocating for Judy Centers is important for Sweat, especially when discussing how to support low-income families in the county.

“We don’t have a lot of leftover income to do extras,” Sweat said. “Judy Centers provide those extras in terms of family living, basic living skills and educational skills.”

Judith White, the county’s chief academic officer, also emphasized the importance of sending children to school early. Pre-K services in the county are not used widely enough, she said.

“You’d be shocked. Pre-K opens in April every single year for families,” White said. “In September, we’re about to lose money from the state because our pre-K seats are not filled.”