LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - The La Crosse Center filled with hundreds of educators Friday, all with the same mission: making sure children get a well-rounded education.
They spent the morning at the Western Wisconsin Education Conference, making it their priority to "Educate the Whole Child" – the theme of Friday's conference.
Margaret Cattoi is a preschool teacher at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside in Racine, Wis. She said a well-rounded education starts at an early age.
"I think the ones that don't get that education are behind when they start out and they may not feel as self-confident as some of the ones who have gone through the (preschool) programs," Cattoi said.
Preschool teaches children rules, how to make friends, how to behave in a classroom, Cattoi added – a message President Obama pushed in his State of the Union address and again Thursday in Georgia.
"Students don't just show up in kindergarten and first grade more prepared to learn, they're also more likely to grow up reading and doing math at grade level," Obama said, addressing the crowd in Georgia.
"Kids who have not had preschool compared to the kids who have had preschool coming into kindergarten – the kids who have had no preschool are already behind. And that's not fair," said Katie Gudgeon, president elect of the Western Wisconsin Education Conference board.
Gudgeon said the president's request for all American children to receive a high-quality preschool education is necessary for a child's success.
"Wouldn't you be frustrated every day because you were behind and not knowing what to do because you missed all this prerequisite material? It's the same for kindergartners who have not had preschool," Gudgeon said.
Teachers like Cattoi see the success of preschool early.
"We've heard from a lot of kindergarten teachers. They say the ones that come out of our program are doing a good job in school," Cattoi said.
She's among the many who will argue preschool is the first step in "educating the whole child."
Troy Harcey, superintendent of instruction in the La Crosse school district, said 90 percent of the district's students go to preschool. And, that number is rising.
He called it a jump start to get ahead, and said the kindergarten and first grade teachers can see the impact.
President Obama has not provided a cost estimate or how the preschool program would be paid for.
The White House said those details will be released as the President releases his budget in the coming weeks.
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