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Lieutenant governor visits PR-B pre-kindergarten students

Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal Pine River-Backus pre-kindergarten student Olivia Wynn shows off her painting skills for Lt. Gov. Tina Smith during Smith's Tuesday, Sept. 20 visit to the school.1 / 6
Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (left) sat in on a pre-kindergarten class at Pine River-Backus Elementary School Tuesday, Sept. 20, to see how the state's funding has helped the classes.2 / 6
Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal Lt. Gov. Tina Smith plays with Pine River-Backus pre-kindergarten students Tryan Pickar (left) and Bryce Digiovanni Tuesday, Sept. 20, as part of the Dayton-Smith Administration's "87 Counties in 86 Days" tour.3 / 6
Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal Pine River-Backus pre-kindergarten student Olivia Wynn shows off her painting skills for Lt. Gov. Tina Smith during Smith's Tuesday, Sept. 20 visit to the school.4 / 6
Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal Lt. Gov. Tina Smith plays with Pine River-Backus pre-kindergarten student Tryan Pickar as part of the Dayton-Smith Administration's "87 Counties in 86 Days" tour. 5 / 6
Theresa Bourke/Echo Journal Pine River-Backus Superintendent Dave Endicott (left) and Elementary School Principal Rick Aulie welcome Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to the school Tuesday, Sept. 20.6 / 6

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith made her way to Pine River-Backus Elementary School on Tuesday, Sept. 20, as part of the Dayton-Smith administration's "87 Counties in 86 Days" statewide tour.

Smith's visit to Pine River focused on the school's early learning education program. Last year, Smith and Gov. Mark Dayton secured a $25 million investment in free, voluntary pre-kindergarten programs for Minnesota students. The Pine River-Backus School District received a $151,550 grant through this funding to provide more students access to pre-kindergarten.

PR-B superintendent Dave Endicott welcomed Smith to the elementary school Tuesday so she could visit a pre-kindergarten class and discuss the program with school staff and faculty members.

Smith first stopped in Molly Hoffarth's class, where she caught of glimpse of how the class works and got to participate in activities with the students. These pre-kindergarten students attend two full days of school per week. Hoffarth explained how important this arrangement is for the young students and how helpful the state funding has been.

"I think it's working out great," Hoffarth said. "Now that we get to do the full day here, I'm really grateful for that. And the money has helped provide staff for us."

Since the students attend school for a full day, they get to ride the bus with other kids, eat lunch in the cafeteria and participate in music classes.

"We're getting to do a lot of things that other elementary kids get," Hoffarth said as she explained how this program helps prepare her students for full-time kindergarten classes.

After interacting with students, Smith further discussed the early childhood education program with Endicott, Hoffarth, elementary school principal Rick Aulie, school board member Chris Cunningham and other PR-B faculty and staff.

"I'm really interested in hearing about the integration," Smith said. "How the preschool programs and early learning programs fit into everything else that you're doing in the schools and what you're seeing in terms of impact of early education."

Endicott explained that giving the students a headstart in the school district is beneficial for both them and their families.

"These kids are going to continue on in this district hopefully, and so it makes sense that we work together and we have a chance to share resources through special ed staff, parent resources, those kinds of things," Endicott said. "I think it's the best thing for the kids when it gets right down to it."

Smith was also interested in how the state funding for this program is making a difference in the lives of the students and families, which Endicott answered in terms of helping families in need.

"If we're talking about ... kids that are coming from a poverty background - what's the best chance for them to succeed? I think this is it," Endicott said. "I think having them here, having a relationship with the family, where the families feel comfortable coming in because we know their engagement is key to the success of the child as well. I can't find a negative for it."

The lieutenant governor was grateful for the opportunity to visit PR-B Elementary School during her statewide tour.

"It's just a fantastic organizing principle for me. I've been visiting a lot of schools and school districts, and it's been a great way for getting a feel for things," Smith said. "It's just so helpful to me to get an on-the-ground idea of what's working and what's not working. I'm very excited about what we can do with all of this.

As a result of the state's $25 million investment, 74 school districts and charter schools throughout Minnesota received funding for pre-kindergarten programs this year.

The Dayton-Smith "87 Counties in 86 Days" tour began Aug. 1 in Eagan and will conclude by Oct. 25.

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