Letter to the Editor: Thinking Holistically About 4-year-old Kindergarten

When my son was born five years ago, my husband and I assumed we would not be able to afford day care for him. We planned to manage child care on our own till kindergarten, but balancing full-time jobs and full-time parenting quickly proved untenable.

Enter Northern Door Children’s Center (NDCC). Turns out, NDCC isn’t as expensive as I’d feared, and they offer need-based scholarships. They don’t require deposits. They offer short contract periods so that families whose work varies seasonally can adjust their child care choices accordingly. 

We enrolled our son when he was 13 months old. He recently completed NDCC’s 4K program, where he was educated, challenged and loved by NDCC’s remarkable staff. He loves going to “school” every day. NDCC has been a godsend to our family.

The Gibraltar School District’s proposal to create a public 4K program at Gibraltar is one that, in theory, I support enthusiastically. In practice, however, NDCC (like most early-childhood education centers) relies on 4K income to offset the expense of caring for younger children. As I understand it, a free 4K program at Gibraltar would threaten NDCC’s delicate financial balance, possibly irreparably, as Sturgeon Bay’s public 4K program did for the Barker Center.

Would I have appreciated a free 4K option for my son? Absolutely. But no amount of free 4K could outweigh the life-changing benefits NDCC provided for us for the rest of our son’s life before he turned four.

We don’t value early-childhood education or its heroic practitioners nearly enough in this country, and our system needs major changes. Until then, we have to work within the system we have. If the school board’s goal is to make life easier for families of preschool-aged kids, a 4K program that doesn’t involve NDCC will be counterproductive.

Therefore, I urge the Gibraltar school board not to offer a 4K option, or if it does, to partner with NDCC collaboratively to make early-childhood education in Door County work well for everyone, not just the families of four-year-olds. In order to make it to 4K, you have to get through ages zero through three first. 

Katie Dahl

Egg Harbor, Wisconsin