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Supporting families through the Universal PreK process

Photo of a KIPP Colorado pre-school girl student

In the wake of the groundbreaking but rocky rollout of universal preschool (UPK) in Colorado last year, the focus at the school level has shifted towards ensuring that parents receive the support they need during the enrollment process.

Recognizing the pivotal role parents play in a child’s educational journey, KIPP Colorado Public Schools is working to facilitate a smoother experience for families this year.

Some of the biggest challenges coming out of last year were navigating two portals and having to rely heavily on local UPK contacts who were troubleshooting myriad technical and logistical problems in real-time. Schools were unable to see on their end which families matched, which were waitlisted, and if their applications were even accepted.

The lack of information available led to spotty communication with families, which left everyone frustrated. But this year things are different, at least in Denver Public Schools.

Families who want to enroll their children in ECE for 3-(at KIPP Sunshine Peak Elementary) and 4-year-olds (at KIPP Sunshine Peak Elementary and KIPP Northeast Elementary) first fill out the DPS SchoolChoice application, and once they are accepted, then they fill out the UPK application.

Last year there was no way to grant priority to incoming ECE students who had an older sibling already attending the school – in fact, KIPP had to manually go in and intentionally track siblings to ensure sibling applications were prioritized.

Photo of KIPP administrator
Cynthia Carrera-Landeros – Student Recruitment and Enrollment Coordinator

One of the key supports this year is liaisons whom parents can seek guidance and assistance from in navigating the enrollment process for early childhood education programs.

Liaisons answer questions over the phone and in person and can apply on behalf of parents, if necessary. At KIPP Colorado Public Schools, Student Recruitment & Enrollment Coordinator, Cynthia Carrera-Landeros, provides parents with information, resources, step-by-step guidance, and personalized assistance to address any concerns they may have.

“It’s refreshing to connect with a family and get them enrolled. You make relationships with families and there is a sense of security they have with you when your program checks all the boxes in their preschool search,” said Carrera-Landos.

“I am a part of the process with them, so when I meet them in person, it feels like family, like I’ve known them a long time. These are connections I keep outside of work too. I am a KIPP alum so I still know this community. I am a part of this community and I love this part of my work.”

Déla Fyfe, Senior Director of Regional Operations at KIPP Colorado oversees the implementation of these initiatives. She highlighted the district’s commitment to making the process better this year.

“When Universal PreK was first starting, I was so excited because it meant supporting more families from such a young age, but some of the unknowns left families feeling overwhelmed and uncertain of what to expect,” she said.

We have worked with DPS a lot this year and they have made sure this process is going to be easier for parents than it was previously. By providing robust support to parents, we are breaking down barriers and fostering a sense of community engagement. We want parents to feel confident in their choice to enroll their children in our preschool programs.”

Headshot of Dela Fyfe - Director of Regional Operations for KIPP Coloradoi
Dela Fyfe – Director of Regional Operations

The common misconception about the round one School Choice period is that it is not first-come-first-served, but rather a lottery system for enrolling in schools. So even if parents do not hear back with their round one results until March or are not matched with their first choice, they can still sign up for the UPK application and ensure that at least 10-15 hours of care is free through the state program.

It was unsettling for families to be unsure of what they were going to pay out of pocket for care last year, but now every family knows they get at least 10 hours free.  KIPP Colorado also uses a sliding scale through Denver Public Schools and Denver Preschool Program to support families in paying the high cost of daycare including qualifying factors like family income, English language learners, families experiencing homelessness, or students with disabilities.

The relationships at the school level are critical because all of the billing is run through DPS and UPK, so ensuring the process is easy and accessible is vital to the program’s success.

“I truly believe that KIPP Colorado is ready to serve our students now in the best way possible and to ensure they navigate this world fully supported,” said Déla Fyfe. “I went to DPS schools starting at ECE and we leveraged the choice options that DPS had as well. I am a part of this community; I was a teacher and assistant principal before my current role. I keep doing this because I love becoming a part of families’ lives and helping them navigate the challenging parts of the education system.”