COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Columbus City Schools is looking to boost enrollment for the youngest group of learners.

The district’s pre-K program has been impacted by the pandemic during the last two years, but now the district is preparing to grow and hopes those numbers will rise in the fall.

In the classroom. That’s where Fatima Shariff says her daughter Rashida wants to be every day — learning and growing.

“Tying her shoes, putting her backpack on her clothes,” Shariff said. “She’s five, but she always struggled with that and when she started school, everything was like, ‘No, I got it! I can do it myself.’”

Shariff has 4 daughters — two little ones at home, Rashida in pre-K and Isra in kindergarten.

She feels Isra would have benefitted from early learning like this.

“Due to the pandemic with the shutdown, it never happened, so she was at home, and it took her — I think, right now it’s April, maybe until January of this year to get more comfortable and be more outspoken,” Shariff said.

Dr. Terra Baker, director of early childhood education for the district, said it’s been some time since the pre-K program has been at capacity – about 2,000 students.

Enrollment for the district’s pre-K program has dropped over the last few years;

  • 2019-2020 — 1803 students enrolled
  • 2020-2021 — 1296 students enrolled
  • 2021-2022 — (added 96 seats) 1665 students enrolled

For the next school year, the program will add 100 new seats.

Baker said the drop in numbers, especially last school year, was partially due to the pandemic.

“That’s a trend that we saw in all of the early childhood education programs, not just Columbus’s, and so we absolutely like to reach capacity this year,” she said. “That would be a great problem to have.”

Baker said Columbus City Schools is preparing to reach more pre-K students this fall, opening up more free location options for residents with pre-K-aged students.

“Opening two classrooms on the north side and a classroom on the east side and one that is more of a central classroom,” Baker said.

Shariff said not only does she feel Rashida is ready for kindergarten, but it also made a difference at home, too.

“Just gave me that freedom, even after school — I don’t have to oversee everything next to her,” she said. “She had that dependency personality trait. Now, since she started school, she wants to do her own thing. It’s like, ‘I don’t even need you! Bye, mom!’”

The new pre-K classrooms will open starting this September, which brings the program to more than 60 locations in the city.

To learn more about enrolling in the pre-K program, click here.