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Early Learning

Washington, DC has a long history as a leader in providing early childhood education (ECE) and leads the nation in access to Pre-K for both 3- and 4-year old children. Access to high-quality, affordable childcare is a critical need for families across the District, and DCPS is proud to provide free, universal Pre-K in a school environment to ensure all of our young learners are ready for kindergarten. Many of the very best Pre-K classrooms in the region can be found in DCPS!

ECE Fast Facts

  • DCPS enrolls over 6,000 Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 students across all elementary schools.
  • More than 92 percent of early childhood students at DCPS are meeting or exceeding developmental expectations.
  • Children who enroll in DCPS Pre-K programs outperform national literacy averages upon kindergarten entry.
  • DCPS is among the few jurisdictions that require our Pre-K teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree, and many of our teachers exceed that minimum requirement. We are also among the few that pay our Pre-K teachers on the same salary scale as our K-12 educators and provide ongoing professional development for all teachers.
  • Washington, DC is investing over $100 million to expand early childhood education opportunities – including opening the Stevens Early Learning Center in August 2020; renovating the Old Randle Highlands and Old Miner school buildings; as well as, new programming at Bunker Hill, Drew, King, Moten, and Wheatley – to offer more infant and toddler seats in the coming years.

Program Overview

Beginning in School Year 2020-2021 (SY20-21), DCPS’ ECE structure will align with the existing Cluster Support Model where each cluster of schools is led by an Instructional Superintendent and supported by a team of dedicated central office staff. Each cluster's central office support team includes, but is not limited to, staff with expertise in attendance, social-emotional learning, academic content areas, special education services, technology, language acquisition, school operations, and community and family engagement. This approach ensures that all efforts within a school are targeted and aligned.

Resources and supports will be differentiated across schools[PDF] to ensure Pre-K students furthest from opportunity have access to the services that will enable them to enter kindergarten prepared for success. Whereas in prior years, comprehensive wraparound supports and services were available to all children and families in Title I schools, moving forward, supports will vary based on student need as demographics have shifted across schools. This means schools serving a socioeconomically diverse student population may receive targeted supports, while schools serving the highest percentage of students designated as at-risk will receive robust instructional programming support and family services.

Kindergarten Readiness

At DCPS we believe that all young children are capable and competent learners, and their voices and ideas are welcomed and valued in our classrooms. In DCPS’ early childhood classrooms children learn through a combination of play, teacher-led lessons, and engaging learning experiences. Classrooms are designed to promote children’s active engagement with the environment, and teachers design learning experiences to promote children’s language development, critical thinking skills, creativity, and early academic skills in order to ensure that children are well prepared for success in kindergarten and beyond. All DCPS Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 programs are aligned to the Kindergarten Readiness Standards.

Children have daily recess and rest time (nap time). Academic specials are offered at all schools and vary from Mandarin Chinese to Creative Arts. School-specific information is available in each School Profile.

All students also have access to mental health supports and social work services offered through the school community. Families in need may also receive family support services, including case management services, family engagement services, and connections with community-based organizations to facilitate access to additional social support services as needed.

Safety and Supervision

Student safety is paramount, and DCPS continues to focus on ensuring a strong culture of safety at every school. This includes the issuance of an ECE Supervision Policy; systemwide training for teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, and school leaders; prescribed student safety monitoring systems; and the creation of a Health and Safety Support team to monitor school practices and provide support, as needed.

We know active supervision during transition periods is critical, but also presents unique challenges. As such, DCPS is planning modifications to Pre-K schedules next school year to reduce student transitions. All teachers will also be provided with a limited choice of transition-related supervision systems (“scan and count” systems) to support effective practices when transitions are necessary (e.g. dismissal).

DCPS utilizes rigorous monthly data reviews and progress monitoring systems to identify bright spots and corrective actions or supports needed at specific schools. We will continue intensive supports in this area to ensure our commitment to our youngest learners is evident.

Early Childhood Transition Week

DCPS Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 classrooms operate on the regular school system calendar, except for Early Childhood Transition Week. This special transition period occurs during the first week of the school year. To help ease the transition from home or daycare to school, most schools opt to start Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 with a shortened week. All enrolled Early Childhood families will receive direct communication about Transition Week closer to the start of the school year.

Before Care and Afterschool Services

Many schools offer before care and afterschool services. Children enrolled in afterschool programming receive a free supper as part of the program. Program costs are determined based on a sliding-fee scale. Visit our Afterschool Programs page for more information.

Pre-K Enrollment

To enroll new 3- and 4-year-olds in school, families must apply through the My School DC lottery. Families may enroll children in Pre-K3 if the child is at least 3 years old and in Pre-K4 if the child is at least 4 years old, respectively, by September 30. The DCPS Early Action Pre-Kindergarten program provides guaranteed access for in-boundary students applying to Pre-K at participating schools. Learn more here.

Stevens Early Learning Center

DCPS is proud to open the Stevens Early Learning Center in August 2020. Stevens will be the district’s first standalone Early Learning Center with DCPS Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 classrooms, and a 0-3 program offered in partnership with a community-based organization. Through this partnership, Stevens will offer a unique opportunity to educate our earliest learners in a model devoted specifically to zero-to-five-year-olds.