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Boston universal Pre-K accepting applications for 2021-2022 school year

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UPK is expanding to offer up to 750 seats in community settings and begin a pilot program for 3 year olds.

Boston Universal Pre-K (Boston UPK), an initiative of the Boston Public Schools (BPS) and the City of Boston, has opened applications for prekindergarten seats in community-based settings for the 2021-2022 school year. Prekindergarten (pre-k), also known as K1, is offered in the City of Boston at no cost to families. Eligible students must be Boston residents and turn four years old on or before September 1, 2021. Three-year-old students in the new, limited pilot program in community-based settings must turn three years old on or before September 1, 2021.  

Boston offers a mixed-delivery pre-k system, which includes options in both BPS classrooms as well as community-based centers across the city. Boston UPK is entering its third year of serving pre-kindergartners in community-based settings, including child care centers and neighborhood community centers. 

As of the 2020-2021 school year, Boston UPK serves 41 classrooms at 31 sites funded under 18 community organizations across the City of Boston. Pre-k curriculum and quality in community-based settings are aligned with that of K1 in BPS classrooms. This includes using the nationally recognized Focuscurriculum, providing a 6.5-hour school day for 180 days per year, and aligning community-based teacher qualifications, starting salary, and professional development with that of BPS school staff.  

Expansion to allow for piloting 3-year-olds in UPK 

As a new pilot program in the 2021-2022 school year, Boston UPK will serve a limited number of 3-year-olds, in addition to 4-year-olds. Existing Boston UPK community-based sites will be given the option to have mixed classrooms with up to 25% of seats in each classroom for 3-year-olds. Not all Boston UPK sites may serve 3-year-olds, and Boston UPK hopes to expand the program in subsequent years.

“The Boston UPK program provides a high-quality preschool education for every 4-year-old in the city, preparing students at an early age for school and in life through developing routines, building social, emotional, and critical thinking skills,” said Boston Mayor Kim Janey. “The expansion to include 3-year-olds is one piece of closing the opportunity gap in Boston, helping families who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic by allowing our students to start their learning journey even earlier.” 

Registration is now open for pre-k for the 2021-22 school year

Applications are now open for Boston UPK seats in community-based settings. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, and there is no deadline to apply or enroll. However, applying early provides a greater likelihood of locating open seats in or near a family’s neighborhood. Parents and caregivers can find more information on Boston UPK in community-based settings and complete an application at bostonpublicschools.org/upk. After being prompted to create an account in the enrollment system, a caregiver will be able to locate sites near their home or workplace and will be asked to rank their top three UPK site choices. In the following days, a staff member from either Boston UPK or a community-based site will reach out about next steps. 

“Boston Public Schools is excited to offer the pre-k experience at no cost to families to more of our youngest learners in Boston. Every child deserves a great education and equitable access to opportunities that will help them learn and thrive,” said BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius. “As we expand access to high-quality pre-K, BPS families will be able to give their students a head start to their child’s continued growth. We look forward to identifying more community partners who will offer the UPK program as part of this expansion.”

History of Universal Pre-K in Boston

In 2005, Boston made a commitment for accessibility to preschool for all 4-year-olds in Boston. In 2013, Boston became a recipient of the Preschool Expansion Grant, which continued until 2019. In 2015, the City emphasized high quality – not just expanded access – to preschool, and in 2019 Boston announced the $15 million Quality Pre-K fund to provide the startup funding for additional seats in community-based settings. Boston UPK is funded through the City’s Pre-K Fund, Boston Public Schools district funds, and public and private philanthropy. 

In 2020, the Boston School Committee approved a Connector system to ensure continuity of the kindergarten experience for students in Universal Pre-K in community-based organizations transitioning to kindergarten within BPS. In 2021, Boston Mayor Kim Janey approved expansion of Boston Universal Pre-K to allow a limited pilot program for 3-year-olds to provide relief to families most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A recent New America piece underscores the need for pre-k during COVID-19 economic recovery and reviews recent research highlighting substantial gains made in both math and literacy, and language by students in the Boston pre-k program. Previous research on the Boston pre-k model found that it significantly increases children’s readiness for future learning.

“UPK has been the perfect transition for my son from his small and loving home daycare to a more traditional school environment” said Sarah Olia, whose child attends UPK at Roxbury Tenants of Harvard (RTH) Early Education Center in the Longwood Medical Area. “The hands-on teaching staff, diverse peer group, and focus on play and exploration have contributed immensely to his growth over the past year. He has acquired important literacy and numeracy skills, but has also become a more confident learner, a deeply curious thinker, and a better friend through his UPK experience.”

The governance of Boston UPK includes the Mayor of Boston, the Boston Public Schools Superintendent, the Boston School Committee, the UPK Advisory Committee, the leadership of UPK-funded community-based organizations, and Family Council.

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