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There are still 900 openings for free pre-K in Mecklenburg County

Pre-k teacher Renee Bryant delivers the last part of the gingerbread lesson to an eager group.
Lisa Worf
Pre-K teacher Renee Bryant delivers the last part of a gingerbread lesson to an eager group.

Pre-kindergarten is one of the ways Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and county leaders hope to boost learning. This year there are still about 900 pre-K openings, most of them in schools that serve low-income families.

The lesson at Nana’s Place in northeast Charlotte revolves around a familiar tale.

“Run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man,” chant a classroom of children.

Teacher Renee Bryant is parceling out freshly baked pieces of gingerbread.

“Why did we make the gingerbread man today?” asks Bryant.

“Because we’re going to eat ‘em all,” a student exclaimed.

Bryant’s pre-K classroom, like many others in Mecklenburg County, has room for more kids. The county has expanded the number of free pre-K slots over the past several years, hoping it’ll improve the odds of children escaping poverty and prepare students for kindergarten.

“We use the tape measure … and we also, basically, use measuring cups, measuring tools to kind-of mix things up. When we mix things up, they’re learning measuring. They really are,” explains Bryant.

The hope was that nearly all 6,600 pre-K slots would be filled in the first somewhat normal year since the pandemic began. Most of the openings now are in the NC Pre-K and Bright Beginnings programs. They serve kids based on financial or academic needs. CMS officials say they’re trying hard to get the word out among these families, so that the children who could benefit the most, end up in pre-K classrooms.

Families can enroll here.

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.