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Planting Seeds of Success

Pre-K Education

Our Littlest Learners:

In our most formative years, a quality pre-K experience is paramount. These programs create spaces where memories form and where learning and joy intertwine, sparking the curiosity and growth that define us. 

This year’s Schools That Inspire awardees show us what is possible when we nurture our youngest and most vulnerable learners. The right beginnings cascade into brighter futures. 

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This video is the result of Houston area High school students in audio-visual CTE programming @DabeDidIt

Want to Learn More About Pre-K?

The following guides can help you make the Pre-K decision that is best for your child.

What Makes for an Inspiring Pre-K Program?

Attracting and Developing Talent

You can't give what you don't have. Let's develop and prepare our teachers to develop and prepare our students.

“I try never to make a decision alone—a strong team is the most important thing,” states Maria Solis, principal of Farias Early Childhood Center, emphasizing the value of investing in exceptional leaders and teams.

To our youngest learners, every adult represents a trusted caretaker and teacher, from the helpful parent volunteer in the lunchroom to the kind person at the front desk or the indispensable teaching assistant in their classroom. Recruiting and nurturing talent that meets the needs of pre-K students is vital for maintaining a high-quality program, and it begins with leadership. Research indicates that appointing a skilled principal ranks among the most crucial actions a district can take to foster teacher growth and maintain engagement.

Balancing Satisfaction, Achievement, and Team Excellence

At YES Prep Airline Elementary School, the teacher evaluation system is holistic. It emphasizes student and family satisfaction alongside academic achievement and professional performance. “You can’t get a Level 4 without your students and families rating you highly,” says Principal Hall. As Principal Hall describes, the selection process for new team members involves transparency and a commitment to excellence: “I tell prospective teaching assistants to spend a day observing first. We all work hard here!” This blend of experience and clear expectations is critical to building her dynamic and dedicated team.

Committing to Quality and Diversity

Kujawa Primary in Aldine ISD stands out as a pioneering and extensive institution, catering to 640 students since its inception in 2007. As an IB Primary Years Programme Title I School, it delivers a top-tier pre-K curriculum focused on early childhood, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten education. 

Notably, Kujawa prides itself on a low teacher turnover rate and a commitment to professional development, with a significant portion of its faculty trained under the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme. Additionally, it boasts a team rich in diverse talents, including bilingual Vietnamese teachers and teaching assistants, ensuring it meets its community’s unique needs.

Building Educational Bridges for Students and Adults

At Farias Early Childhood Center in Houston ISD, nurturing educational careers remains a core focus. This commitment shines through in the journey of a teaching assistant who started as a student in the program, interned during high school, and now progresses in his teaching career. Farias also bolsters adult education with innovative initiatives such as “Operation Success,” training parents as tutors, and “Opportunity Culture,” which provides stipends to teacher leaders for coaching and mentoring. These programs highlight the institution’s dedication to promoting growth among students, educators, and community members.

Social Development and Work Habits

Knowing how to be with yourself and others is foundational for future learning and relationships, and begins in pre-K.

At the heart of effective pre-K education lies the journey of children discovering their identities and learning to thrive within a community. Research underscores the profound impact of developing interpersonal skills—like sharing, cooperating, and assisting others—on a child’s future. These skills not only mark social growth but also correlate strongly with significant life outcomes, such as higher educational achievements and career success.

Nurturing Community and Social Skills

During our visit to Farias Early Childhood Center, we observed the school’s intentional efforts to foster strong social competencies, seamlessly incorporating daily opportunities for children to practice these essential skills. Each morning, familiar adults, including parent volunteers, warmly welcome children, guiding them from their cars to their classrooms where a family-style breakfast awaits. This ritual, as Principal Solis points out, benefits from careful scheduling that ensures the lead teacher’s presence to set a positive tone for the day. Additionally, visuals throughout the hallways remind both children and adults of their community’s support, encouraging them to “wish them well” when someone is absent.

Building Confidence and Academic Foundations

YES Prep Airline Elementary and Kujawa Primary use an approach similar to Farias, providing children with visual greeting options and a classroom tracker to monitor their progress toward goals. A display at each school’s entrance reinforces these clear objectives for everyone. These strategies boost confidence among children and families by affirming shared goals and exemplify best practices for laying strong academic foundations.

Play: Learning to Love Learning

“Play helps children learn how to learn and love learning…Children know play is their superpower.” - LEGO Foundation

Regular structured play and fostering attachment relationships with caregivers enhance children’s confidence, community sense, and collaborative skills.

Games and physical activities serve as exploration pathways for young, developing minds. Top pre-K programs integrate joyful movement throughout the student experience seamlessly. Whether it’s engaging in a sensory room at Farias Early Childhood Center, participating in a content-rich oral language lab at Kujawa Primary, or joining whole-school pep rallies at YES Prep Airline Elementary, each of our Schools That Inspire understands that allowing students to lead discovery with their whole bodies boosts their confidence, resilience, and knowledge through the joy of active play.

Integrating Learning with Play: Celebrating Education Through Art and Community Events

Focused fun permeates the wall decorations and classroom rituals at YES Prep Airline Elementary, where pre-K students and their parents form a basketball team, and kindergarteners participate in whole-school celebrations like pep rallies and book parades. This purposeful integration of learning and enjoyment was evident during our visit. Students explored the work of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat through a read-aloud, art analysis, and then by creating their interpretations of a Basquiat image using their favored paint-pens and icon examples.

Cultivating Joy and Excellence Through Kindness and Positivity

Throughout the halls of Farias Early Childhood Center, we observed numerous adults actively demonstrating the joyful, purposeful behaviors they aim to instill in children. Adults and children alike enjoy a “Tree of Kindness” display, and Principal Solis posts positive notes outside classrooms to encourage teachers. During our visit, she expressed her passion for thematic elements and wore a custom-made T-shirt celebrating this year’s theme, “Be You!” The commitment to joy extends beyond mere swag; at the start of the year, teachers unite around a common theme, song, and celebration before delving into pre-K standards. Principal Solis expects every teacher to confidently identify the ten domains of these standards during casual conversations. Every adult we met on our tour, whether a part-time parent volunteer, a teacher, or an administrator, greeted us with a warm handshake and a friendly hello. This seamless integration of roles left the impression that all adults were content and in command.

Strong Academic Foundations

Whether through manipulatives, stories, centers, playful peer reading, or presenting academic challenges, we know that building intrinsic motivation and a strong foundation for learning is critical for a quality pre-K program. 

The most effective pre-K programs provide a rich academic experience that lays the foundation for lifelong curiosity and learning. Our Schools that Inspire commit to enlivening early literacy and numeracy, ensuring a balanced approach that nurtures cognitive development with age-appropriate, knowledge-rich content.

Fostering Global Citizens Through Integrated Learning

Kujawa Primary excels in blending International Baccalaureate themes with the Core Knowledge Language Arts curriculum, equipping early learners with the vocabulary and experiences to explore engaging topics like “All About Me,” “Animals,” “Habitats,” and during our visit, “Plants.” Leaders at Kujawa highlight the program’s emphasis on student ownership and the development of global citizens as key inspirations. Through these content-rich studies, these young learners increase their agency and expand their understanding of the world.

Empowering Young Learners Through Goal Setting and Achievement

Farias Early Childhood Center stands out for several reasons, notably its transparency with children and families about what children should know and do. Each classroom features a poster written in child-friendly language, enabling the children to monitor their progress and celebrate their achievements, such as “I can identify upper-case letters.”

Building Strong Foundations: Effective Literacy and Math Strategies

YES Prep Airline Elementary embraces transparency about student progress by displaying a visual data wall in each classroom and providing children with exemplars (predominantly self-correcting) to ensure they know they are on the right track. Both the teacher and the teacher’s assistant engage in data-driven small group lessons focused on targeted language and math skills. “This is where the foundation is being built. It’s a game-changer,” Principal Hall asserts.

Each of these Schools that Inspire excels in establishing early literacy and math skills in impactful and sustainable ways for all children, backed by impressive Kinder-readiness data.

Authentic Home School Connection

Families are our children's first teachers; their partnership is essential in developing the whole child.

Meaningful family involvement is crucial to school readiness and future student success. At our Schools that Inspire, bridging home and school begins on day one, welcoming families as essential learning partners. This collaboration continues throughout each child’s educational journey, with the school making deliberate efforts to collaborate and share decision-making power with families.

Strengthening School-Family Partnerships for Enhanced Learning Outcomes

Farias Early Childhood Center fosters a strong connection between home and school by involving parent volunteers who greet children, open car doors, and escort them to classrooms each morning. This commitment to family involvement has earned Farias a Diamond-Certified “Family Friendly School” designation in HISD. Farias operates Operation Success, which trains parents as in-school tutors to assist with skills such as letter recognition and counting to enhance family partnerships and children’s academic development. “We welcome our families with open doors—and we don’t limit them to just laminating. Every one of our front office staff is a current or former parent,” states Principal Solis. Principal Solis, who has had her grandson at Farias, emphasizes her deep commitment, “I LOVE my staff, but I always tell them: I love our children even more.” The center intentionally designs its spaces to facilitate family interaction. It includes a computer in the lobby that serves as a welcoming work area for families needing to enroll their children in choice schools within the district.

At Kujawa Early Childhood School, the rich knowledge-building curricula, including transdisciplinary International Baccalaureate themes like “Sharing the Planet” and related Core Knowledge Language Arts domains such as “Plant Life Cycles,” are communicated regularly to families, ensuring they are informed about the unique and exciting content their children are learning.

Community Organizations

Harmonizing Education: Prelude Music Foundation's Impact on Early Childhood Learning in Houston

At the heart of Houston’s early childhood education landscape, the Prelude Music Foundation stands out by weaving music into the fabric of young learners’ lives.” Reaching over 2,600 children across 15 Title 1 Houston campuses each week, Prelude’s specialist educators create vibrant playgrounds for academic and personal growth. Inspired by the Music Together curriculum, these gatherings help nurture various developmental skills—from numeracy and literacy to social-emotional competencies, aligning seamlessly with TEA Texas Pre-K and Kindergarten Guidelines.

By integrating music into routine learning through playful, engaging activities, Prelude fosters cognitive and linguistic abilities and enhances physical development through movement, embodying the essence of learning through play. Beyond using music to engage students in joyful learning experiences, Prelude strengthens the parent-school connection through education workshops that provide families with the tools to strengthen bonds and reinforce the educational themes introduced in the classroom.

Each year, the culmination of Prelude’s annual efforts is a grand Family/ Classroom Concert at the Miller Outdoor Theater, featuring partnerships with leading Houston orchestras. This event is not just a concert, it’s a celebration of the joy and communal learning that music can inspire. It reflects the foundation’s core belief that when children play, they learn—setting the stage for a lifetime of curiosity and love for learning.

We are born with the capacity to learn…how much opportunity we are given to learn depends on exposure and experimentation. Children cannot learn what they are not exposed to.” – Ana Trevino-Godfrey, Prelude founder

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