Parents in the community knew that preschools existed in other villages nearby and felt as though their children were missing out on an opportunity to be better prepared for primary school. I proposed to school authorities opening a formal preschool and received an enthusiastically supportive response. The primary goals of the project were to demonstrate the importance of early childhood education, to teach students life skills in an effort to prepare them for primary school, to teach students some basic French and introductory academic concepts, and to improve the health and hygiene of students and their families. For the school year 2013-2014, we registered 121 students (55 girls and 66 boys) between the ages of two and six; a 142% increase over the initial projection of community participation.
We implemented the newly devised curriculum which included: learning numbers and the alphabet; identifying shapes, colors, animals, parts of the body, and members of the family in French; and practicing proper hygiene techniques. Furthermore, students were taught life skills including social skills, problem solving and time management, and participated in confidence-building activities. All year long, we were receiving positive feedback from the community. In June 2014, a neighbor proudly reported that her 4-year-old son taught the family when and how to properly wash their hands. Since the students were learning so many things at such a young age, parents were becoming more involved in reinforcing these lessons. Mothers began asking their children to recite their lessons to neighbors because they found it so adorable. Other members of the community told us they could tell which children were preschool students because they are more polite and respectful towards adults than the children who did not attend school. The playground was installed to be used during recreational breaks, but it taught the students some important skills such as sharing, taking turn, and waiting in line. Additionally, the Major at the local clinic was able to come vaccinate all of our students for polio. According to the results of the post-test, 86% of students showed improvement in all categories and 67% scored at least 50% higher in the post-test than they did on the pre-test. To celebrate the end of a successful school year, we hosted a closing ceremony. Parents of the students and community officials were invited to participate in a ceremony recognizing the top five students in the class. The Mayor had not been to the school since the start of the school year and he was so impressed with the progress that he made a generous donation to the program. The day ended with students and their parents eating, singing, dancing and celebrating the success of Tikaré’s first preschool.