The Voluntary Prekindergarten Program (VPK), implemented in 2002 in order to give all of Florida’s 4-year-olds access to a quality prekindergarten experience, is accepting applications, and parents are encouraged to register their children as soon as possible.
The program is designed to prepare Florida’s children for kindergarten and develop the skills they need to become good readers and successful students. It includes quality standards for literacy skills, strict accountability, appropriate curricula, substantial instruction periods, manageable class sizes and qualified instructors.
It is also free to families, doesn’t have income requirements or restrictions and is available to children who reside in Florida and will be eligible for kindergarten in the following fall. Parents have the option of enrolling children in a school year program that consists of 540 instructional hours, three hours per day for 180 days, or a summer program that provides 300 hours of instruction, 10 hours per day for 30 days.
FishHawk resident Danielle Horner, who recently moved from Utah, learned about the VPK program from friends and family. Her 4-year-old son Liam is eligible to participate. She and her husband are exploring all educational options but definitely recognize the benefits of the program.
“He was attending Head Start in Utah and being able to interact with other children who were at their developmental milestones was good for him,” she said.
Horner said social and emotional development that takes place in the classroom environment is essential for growth, including waiting, taking turns, sharing, expressing needs, listening to the needs of others, negotiating and seeking adult help.
The first step is to apply online and obtain a VPK Certificate of Eligibility (COE). This is a ‘ticket’ to VPK, which parents can bring to the VPK site of their choice and complete the registration process.
To apply online, parents need an active email address, a computer, a scanner or camera to create a digital version of proof of the child’s date of birth and proof of Florida residency, the child’s social security number and access to a printer.
Early Childhood and After-School Programs Director Louis Murphy said it’s important to reach out to the school you are interested in and ask what its signup process is for VPK. “The program is based on availability and some sites fill up quickly,” he said.
For more information about the VPK program or how to apply, visit www.hillsboroughschools.org/vpk or call 740-7870.