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A free school program for underserved kids in Wake County celebrates largest class yet

A new teacher at Wanda's Little Hands education center named Luz Iran plays a game of puppets with her 3-year-old student.
Sharryse Piggott
A new teacher at Wanda's Little Hands Center named Luz Iran plays a game of puppets with her 3-year-old student.

“Wanda Little Hands” is one of 15 education centers participating in the program aimed at serving 3-year-olds in underserved communities.

Wanda’s Little Hands is an education center established in 1996.

It's one of the education centers that's part of the Wake ThreeSchool program, which had its first full class in of 100 students in 2022. But for this year, 200 3-year-old students are now expected to attend the program.

Officials say the goal of the Wake ThreeSchool program is to give underserved children access to early education, so they can be prepared for public and private schools.

Wanda McCargo is the owner of Wanda’s Little Hands. Her educational center normally serves pre-K students ages four to five in North Carolina, but now, she said it will start serving 3 year olds.

“This is like the close of the gap for me,” said McCargo. “Because we also serve 12 to 36 month [old] children.”

An estimated 4,000 kids in Wake County are eligible for the program. Wake ThreeSchool has expanded from eight to 16 classrooms across 15 different education centers in the county. Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria said this will help working families.

“They can move into an (North Carolina) pre-K classroom when they turn four at no cost at no cost to the parents, because Wake County essentially offers universally free pre-K for income eligible 4-year-olds, who are within 200% of the poverty line,” said Calabria.

Some things seen as roadblocks that qualify families for the Wake ThreeSchool program include housing stability, speech delays, and non-native speaking households. More than 600 kids are still on the waiting list.

Sharryse Piggott is WUNC’s PM Reporter.
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