Harris County parents camp outside school to sign up for Pre-K program

Long lines to register for Pre-K in Harris County

FORTSON, GA (WTVM) - About 50 Harris County parents spent their Wednesday night outside sleeping on air mattresses and in sleeping bags.

That's because Thursday is registration day for Pre-K at New Mountain Hill Elementary in Fortson, Georgia.  Registration was at 8:30 Thursday morning, but with only 44 slots open parents lined up starting at the end of school Wednesday afternoon in order to guarantee their child can be enrolled.

Parents at the front of the line said they waited over 18 hours. One man expressed his concern that not every student can enter Pre-K if they need to.

"Trying to enroll my little boy in to school for Pre-K next year and it's a little chilly, tiring and long," said parent John Armstrong. "Long night... I've been here since two yesterday and my boss man told me that the ups man said they're already setting up tents and my wife's like you got to get on down there."

A little help for parents came in 2011 when class sizes rose from 20 to 22, and days in school dropped from 180 to 160. Even after this, it is still a yearly problem for all Pre-K schools in Harris County, and it may continue to be.  Governor Deal's new 2014 budget is proposing to increase the school year back to 180 days, and there are discussions of decreasing class sizes, as well.

The state has given the school only two teachers to meet the high demand at New Mountain Hill Elementary. Space in the program is handed out on a first-come, first-serve basis.

A woman waiting in line said the experience isn't all that bad.

"My son's education is really important to me, and I want my son to go here. Spending the night is just a small token of what we can do. And it's Harris County, so we're going to have fun doing this anyway," said Ashley Boyett.

"Our parents are wonderful. It turns into kind of a community event and all the parents know. Many of them have children here already, so this isn't the first time they've experienced this," said New Mountain Hill principal, Mark Gilreath.

Not all of the parent's efforts were rewarded. There were more applicants than spaces available, but as the principal explains, there may still be hope for them.

"So far today, we've had 54 registered. So we've got 10 students on the waiting list. Our other elementary schools within the district offer the same pre-K program. They will obviously do everything they can to accommodate the students within their own zones. But if they have other spaces available, then students on other waiting lists will have the option to transfer and take one of those slots. We want to be able to accommodate as many kids as possible," said Gilreath.

Parents believe the pre-K program is essential for assisting in their child's transition to a school environment when they reach kindergarten.

In Harris County, it's a free program- there's no fee for signing up. All parents need to do to sign up is be near the front of the line with a certified copy of their child's birth certificate and a proof of residency.

There are two schools left with registration dates next week. Pine Ridge Elementary will hold their camp out on Monday night into Tuesday and Park Elementary will be Wednesday into Thursday.

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