COURTESY PHOTO, Kent Youth and Family Services

COURTESY PHOTO, Kent Youth and Family Services

Head start programs to remain at Kent Valley Early Learning Center

New Bezos Academy preschool will share space with Kent Youth and Family Services

The head start and early head start space used by Kent Youth and Family Services will remain at the Kent Valley Early Learning Center even with a new Bezos Academy preschool planning to move into the building.

The Kent School Board voted 3-2 on Jan. 12 to lease space at the Kent Valley Learning Center, 317 Fourth Ave. S., to the nonprofit Bezos Academy to open a preschool for children ages 3 to 5 from low-income families. The free preschool is expected to open in the fall, although no firm dates have been released by Bezos Academy.

Kent Youth and Family Services uses seven classrooms, a main office, attendance office, kitchen, cafeteria, playground and gym, said Melissa Laramie, spokesperson for the Kent School District, in a Jan. 21 email. The nonprofit group uses the space for free through a memorandum of understanding that is renewed annually with the district, which owns the building.

“Kent Youth and Family Services will not have to move spaces or move out to make room for Bezos Academy,” Laramie said. “The building would be basically split in half between Kent Youth and Family Services and Bezos. Kent Youth and Family Services currently only uses half the building and the half that Bezos would use is currently vacant.”

The academy plans to use five classrooms to serve about 100 students ages 3 to 5. The lease is $1 a month for 10 years as the nonprofit academy seeks community partners willing to provide basically free rent. The center is across from Kent City Hall.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and founder of the Kent-based Blue Origin aerospace company, is paying for the Montessori-inspired preschools and opened his first location in 2020 in Des Moines. Other locations include Federal Way, Pacific Beach on the Washington coast and two in Tacoma.

The district will keep two larger classroom spaces vacant for a possible move of the Kent Area Council Parent Teacher Student Association clothing bank from the former Kent Phoenix Academy, which the district might use for an additional middle school, Laramie said.

The federal head start program and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program provide free preschool education and support services to children, 3 to 5 years old, and resource referrals and training opportunities for families who meet the income eligibility criteria and who live within the Kent School District boundaries.

Both of those programs, however, have waiting lists.

Emmanuel Imah, regional partnership development leader for the Bezos Academy, said during a Jan. 12 workshop presentation to the school board that head start has a waiting list in Kent even for those who qualify and there are some families who need assistance with preschool but do not qualify under head start income guidelines.

School Board President Leslie Hamada, who voted to lease space to the Bezos Academy, said in a Kent Reporter Facebook post that head start is filled up.

“The State of Washington has not increased their budget in ECAP & ACAP to add more openings at that location available,” Hamada said about the Kent Valley Early Learning Center. “Thus there are long waiting lists for kids to get that want and need free preschool.”

Hamada said the Bezos Academy will offer more opportunities for children from low-income families.

“This is just another partner (nonprofit) that is offering an opportunity for Montessori-style programming,” Hamada said.

The district held kindergarten classes at the Kent Valley Early Learning Center but no longer needed that space when the new River Ridge Elementary School opened last fall.

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