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College students gather to push awareness of need for quality preschool

Growing up in Topsfield with teachers in his family, Sam LaRussa thought preschool was a given. But relatives told him that students in many other districts weren’t so lucky.

“It doesn’t happen for everyone and it really should,” said the 19-year-old biochemistry major at Northeastern University.

LaRussa and more than 15 other students from Boston-area colleges gathered in front of the Boston Public Library Saturday morning to start conversations with passersby about a state bill to expand preschool programs.

“There are proven differences in the educational outcomes of students who have pre-k as opposed to students who don’t, especially in districts that are underfunded and that have a disproportionate amount of minority populations,” said LaRussa.


The members of Students for Education Reform handed out pamphlets, took photos of people in front of a painted “mural” sign propped up next to their table, and encouraged people to call their state representatives.

The students were especially eager to engage other young adults.

“Pre-k education is something that college students can have a voice on,” said 23-year-old Jon Hebert, a membership and policy coordinator at the national level for Students for Education Reform. “They’re just out of the system themselves.”

Bill H.462, sponsored by state Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch and Bill S.267 by state Senator Sal N. DiDomenico, would develop a grant program for high-quality pre-kindergarten education programs, prioritizing school districts with the highest need.

Children from low-income families who attend preschool are 30 percent more likely to graduate high school, according to the pamphlets handed out by students, but the waiting list to get into state-funded preschool care in Massachusetts is over 5,000 people long, said Hebert.

The bills aim to help level the playing field so students are all starting from the same place on day one of kindergarten, the students said, noting that many people may not consider private preschooling to be a privilege.


“Only about half the population has access to high-quality preschool,” said Rayna Wong, a 21-year-old Boston College student double-majoring in applied psychology and human development. She has done student-teaching and worked with preschoolers herself, she said.

“Massachusetts is supposed to be a leader in education, and we’re actually lagging behind in this area,” said 21-year-old Aja Watkins, a philosophy and math double-major at Northeastern University. “A lot of states have adopted universal pre-k programs.”

Nicole Fleming can be reached at nicole.fleming@globe.com.