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New early-education program launches in Kansas City with a little help from Sesame Street

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Some would say it's the most important phase of a child's life: pre-school and kindergarten.

Education’s earliest levels are the focus of a new push the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is rolling out, making a strong emphasis on the long-term goals of getting kids in school as soon as possible.

Researchers say a child's brain develops quickly during their first five years of life.

With that in mind, the Kansas City Chamber began Pre-K KC on Thursday. It's a five-month program designed to educate families in the metro about the power of kindergarten and pre-K classes.

The program's big kickoff used celebrity guests from Sesame Street and Communities. The group’s famous puppets joined the kids at Kansas City Neighborhood Academy via videotape during a Thursday afternoon assembly.

Players from the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals also sent videotaped messages, encouraging an auditorium filled with children to be excited about unexpected educational opportunities.

“We're able to get the attention of the community,” Jasmin Williams, Pre-K KC director with the Kansas City Chamber, said Thursday.

Williams said the chamber uses a plan laid out by Sesame Street and Communities, which will place locations of learning around the city, beginning in March.

Some tasks meant for young learners might include counting as many circles as possible at Union Station or finding as many Ks on buildings in downtown Kansas City.

Williams also said Pre-K KC will unveil a new series of TV public service announcements, which emphasize the need for excitement about education.

“It's not always financial. It's also investing in their learning opportunities, their resources they have, the number of books they have. The number of opportunities they have to add to their knowledge,” Williams told FOX4.

Early education is one of five major points the chamber has identified, meant to make Kansas City excel in the future. Educators at Kansas City Neighborhood Academy seem exhilarated by the plan.

“When they transition to kindergarten, they'll have the knowledge they need,” said Jessica Byrd, who has taught kindergarten for 11 years.

Byrd, a Kansas City native, teaches classrooms filled with four- to five-year-old kids every day. She said teachers can easily detect the difference between kids who’ve been educated before first grade and those who haven’t.

“Getting those social skills are social very important so they can learn how to work out problems on their own instead of always looking for a teacher's assistance. It gives them that voice they need,” Byrd said.

The Kansas City Chamber also hopes this can improve the performance in local schools. KC Chamber leaders pointed to statistics involving students at Kansas City Public Schools, indicating 75 percent of children enter the system without being prepared to begin their education.

Kansas City is one of three regions in the country using the new "Sesame Street and Communities" plan. The others are in California and North Carolina. Money for the program came through a grant from the Kauffman Foundation.

When those public service announcements begin on television and social media, you'll see FOX4 anchor Dhominique Ricks on camera with those characters from Sesame Street.