By Cherri Gregg

CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — The Camden City School District was renewing its efforts today to get the word out about its free, all-day preschool program.

The program is not new, but more than ten percent of the families living in Camden have not yet registered their three- or four-year-olds for next year.

“There are many different issues, and as we conduct our needs assessments we see some of the reasons are cultural and some parents just want to keep their kids at home longer,” says Katrina McCombs (at right in photo below), early childhood director for the school district.  “Some parents enroll their kids in non-Abbott schools, and some are not aware.”

(“Abbott” schools, named for a 1985 court ruling, are those New Jersey schools in poor communities that receive extra funding from the state.)

McCombs says the district is hoping to get 100 percent of the 2,500 families with pre-K-age children to register.  Right now, the district is hovering at 89 percent.

“We have billboards that are strategically placed throughout the city, in both English and Spanish,” she says.   “We also have sent fliers out.”

Camden schools superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard says they sent people door to door and learned many families were not aware that the pre-school program was free and that, if the family qualifies, they could also get free early drop-off and aftercare.

“When we tell people that it is free, their eyes light up,” says Rouhanifard (at left below, “so we are building upon what was already happening here.”

(Paymon Rouhanifard and Katrina McCombs of the Camden School District.  Photo by Cherri Gregg)

(Paymon Rouhanifard and Katrina McCombs of the Camden School District. Photo by Cherri Gregg)

Advocates for early childhood education say getting kids enrolled in such programs make a difference, especially in lower income families.  Camden is known as one of the poorest city’s in the region, so free early education could get kids on the road out of poverty early.

“We are an Abbott district and under that ruling, our goal is to do whatever is possible to provide a head start for students who do not have the resources that suburban families have,” says McCombs. “The earlier that a child is able to acclimate to school, that sets the child up to give them a cushion and make them more resilient as things come up later in life because they may not have the resources.”

“I’ve been hearing about it on the radio for the past week,” noted Sarah Plummer (top photo), who registered her three-year-old son Bobby today at the Early Childhood Development Center, on Pine Street.

“You need somebody to look after your kids while you’re working, but also so he can get a good education,” she says, noting she’ll be registering her two-year-old daughter next year.

Registration began today at 33 sites, with 170 classrooms across the city, both in-district and on private sites.  For more information, go to

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