JACKSON, Miss. (WTOK) - More than half of the state's children aren't meeting the mark to be ready for kindergarten.
Johanna Lebern is Pre-K teacher at Pearl.
"I taught Pre-K, kindergarten and then I'm back in Pre-K. And one of the things I noticed when I was in kindergarten was that we had a lot of kids coming to us that were not ready," said Lebern.
It's something the state is working to change. Pearl saw its scores on the kindergarten readiness test and realized it was time to bring back their Pre-K program five years ago.
"A lot of our parents didn't have the monetary means to send their children to a quality private daycare that would provide the educational piece that they were missing," said Canda Jackson, principal at Pearl Lower Elementary.
Interacting with other children and motor skills are a critical part of preparing young children for kindergarten.
"The social skills that they're getting here are absolutely one of the most important things we do, in our opinion. They need to learn how to communicate and use language to do so," Lebern said.
Identifying letters, numbers, shapes and colors may seem small but it's the building blocks they need. And it translates to less remediation in the following school years.
"We know that that 3rd grade reading assessment is comprehension. But you can't have the comprehension if they don't have the reading skills that they need," said Nikki Graham, principal of Pearl Northside Elementary.
And they don't want to see students behind before they ever begin.
"Plus you still have to get them prepared with the 2nd and 3rd grade standards," said Graham. "So it's like you're trying to close large gaps and it's difficult if they don't have those foundational skills."
Preschool isn't required in Mississippi. But the state has been taking steps in recent years to expand early childhood learning. And that means expanded access for families and children.