Bobbie Warash wasnt surprised at all by the news that pre-kindergarten programs help prime children for academic success. As a professor of child development and family studies at West Virginia University, shes been sending that message for years.

But to see her philosophy validated by a recent study from the National Institute for Early Education Research was rewarding.

The Rutgers University research unit recently released findings on the effects of pre-kindergarten programs on young childrens school readiness in five states, including West Virginia.

The Rutgers team examined 720 students in state-funded preschool programs in West Virginia on vocabulary; early math skills; understanding of print concepts and phonological awareness; and whether children can blend sounds into words. West Virginia children showed significant increases in all areas.

Warash has an expansive perspective on preschool education in West Virginia. She mentors undergraduate and graduate students at WVU , and shes the director of the universitys Nursery School, an innovative provider of developmentally appropriate education for 3- and 4-year-olds.

She took a leadership role in West Virginias development of content standards for all pre-schools in the state, which are required to be implemented by 2012. Warash also leads continuing education courses for current teachers on issues such as integration of children with disabilities into preschool classrooms.

The environment is so important for preschoolers,she said.We stress providing an enriched environment that offers children a variety of good choices in every curriculum area, whether its art, math, science, history or another field.

By giving students choices and allowing them to set their own priorities, Warash says the children develophidden life skills that will make them more capable when theyre in K through 12 classrooms. It makes them more independent and curious, while at the same time being suited to their level of intellectual and emotional development.

Its also an opportunity to prepare the next generation of preschool teachers. Undergraduate and graduate students are very involved in planning activities and contributing to the curricula of the Nursery School, under the guidance and mentorship of WVU faculty.

We teach give them the guidelines for birth through age five education, and then we help them put those guidelines into practice in a real-world setting,Warash said.

Warashs involvement with the states content standards has given WVU students a unique opportunity to be early adopters. As of this year, WVU will offer a special Directors Credential to students who complete approximately 10 hours of additional on-line coursework in areas such as leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

The additional credential prepares students for leadership roles in preschools,Warash explained.Its also available to people who currently hold a bachelors degree in child development and family studies or an equivalent discipline, allowing people out in the profession to improve their skills and qualifications.