Ezra Diamond, left, builds with magnetic blocks while Rhonan Gibson plays nearby during free time at Miss Melissa’s Preschool. The preschool, along with Head Start, received Preschool Promise funds to offer tuition-free spots to families who qualify under the income guidelines.

Melissa Shafer turns a page and continues with the well-known story of “I knew an old lady who swallowed a fly.”

“She swallowed a ... cow!” Shafer says, then looks at the youngsters sitting on the carpet nearby. “Could you swallow a cow?”

“I could!” Rhonan Gibson, 4, says, bouncing a bit on his pillow.

Soon the story is over.


“Again! Let’s do that one again!” Ezra Diamond, 3, says as he jumps up and down.

This is a typical scene inside Miss Melissa’s Preschool, where Shafer uses a modified Montessori approach of play-based learning.

“I’m a believer in that kids are little scientists,” she said.

Today she has just two children, but she hopes that changes soon thanks to a Preschool Promise grant she received from the state.

Preschool Promise was developed to help families access preschool programs. The state program provides free preschool for those with income that is 200% or less of federal poverty guidelines. For a family of four, the maximum income limit is $52,400. For a family of six, the limit is $70,320.

Preschool Promise is about options, said Theresa Martinez, who is transitioning from Early Learning Hub coordinator to the director of Child Care Resource & Referral. She helps families enroll in Preschool Promise.

“Preschool Promise really is about trying to meet all families’ needs and level the playing field for all children coming into kindergarten,” she said.

Preschool Promise is in its fourth year, but in 2020 it expanded to offer more slots for eligible families. It includes a variety of settings — centers, homes, and schools — that offer options for availability.

“Some parents need longer care,” Martinez said. “That’s where home programs are an option.”

Preschool Promise programs are required to provide 900 hours per year.

And that time, Martinez said, must include “developmentally appropriate activities.”

This year, Baker City was allotted 8 spots at Miss Melissa’s Preschool, 6 at Masterminds (which is full and already participated in the Preschool Promise program), and 35 with Head Start.

The typical day at Miss Melissa’s Preschool is from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., although she can extend to 5 p.m. if needed.

Her preschool is in a small building near downtown Baker City. The approach is play-based, which includes free play time with a rotating collection of toys, center space for activities, and a room for storytime and crafts.

She incorporates outside activities as much as possible.

Shafer usually advertises her preschool on Facebook, but had to delay this year while awaiting Preschool Promise paperwork.

To learn more about Miss Melissa’s Preschool, check Facebook or her website,

To apply for Preschool Promise, call Martinez at 541-473-4822 or email

Head Start

Although Head Start is already in session, the program still has space for students. Later this month, Head Start will transition to the Baker Early Learning Center (BELC) at 2725 Seventh St., and resume classes in early November.

The BELC preschool follows the school district schedule and offers 1,020 hours a year, said Robert Kleng, director of Eastern Oregon University Head Start.

Head Start utilizes the Conscious Discipline approach, which is an evidence-based method that integrates social-emotional learning, discipline, and self-regulation.

Their school readiness approach, according to their website, includes language and literacy development, cognition and general knowledge, approaches toward learning, physical well-being and motor development, and social and emotional development.

To learn more, visit To inquire about Head Start and the income guidelines for Preschool Promise, call Jen Goodman at 541-786-5535.

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