MasterKey Bilingual Academy, which is nearing the end of its first semester, was designed specifically to target low income families that may not be able to pay for private education. The private pre-K has 38 children, two teachers, two assistants and an aid that floats between classrooms.

“When MasterKey Ministries in Sherman first began working in the community, we started with an after school and summer program for low income children,” MasterKey Bilingual Academy Director Helen Shoulders said. “We started the programs thinking that this would not be hard. We would just help them with their homework, help them read better, help them do math more proficiently. But, what we discovered right off the bat was that some children were able to get back on grade level faster, but others were just a struggle that we did not understand what it was.”

The children that got back on grade level quicker, Shoulders said, had attended Fred Douglass Early Childhood Center. The ones that struggled the most, she explained, had not attended a preschool.

“We know that most of what is needed to help brain development is learned before the age of 5,” Shoulders said. “Most people will never realize that. The fixation on the brain is what is going on during that time period. And many low income families live stressed lives where they are living moment to moment trying to solve the problems unknowing that many times they are separating from their children. And many times, they may not be able to give their child what they need for healthy brain development.”

Sherman Independent School District Elementary Education Director Gayle Smith said it is recommended that kindergartners arrive knowing letters and sounds, basic numbers and counting, have an established vocabulary, socialization experience and are able to understand and follow basic directions. She also said it is recommended parents read to their children 20 minutes every day starting from birth.

“We now expect kindergarten students to be reading by Christmas,” Smith said.

The MasterKey curriculum includes social and emotional awareness, as well as learning letters and the child’s name and counting to 20. Of the current make-up at the school, there are 21 children that speak Spanish and are learning Englis. About 17 students in the preschool program speak English as a first language and are working on learning Spanish words and phrases.

“We have students whose parents are from difference countries as well,” Shoulders said. “We have students who are Burmese and Nepalese.”

The acadmey’s staff is gathering information to create profiles on each student, including assessments that can be passed on to elementary school teachers to provide continuity in education even after the student graduates from the MasterKey program. Based upon teacher referral and word-of-mouth advertising, MasterKey currently has a waiting list of 65 children.

“We want to make good students, respectful students,” Shoulders said. “When I look at education as a whole and the ones that fall into juvenile delinquency, in my opinion, one of the primary factors is that they were falling behind in school. If a child cannot find identity through their successes and triumphs in school, their educational process, they will drift and look for identity somewhere else.”

As one of the final events of the preschool’s introductory semester, MasterKey will be hosting an art-themed luncheon called, “HeART to Heart” where artists from the Sherman Art League have painted chairs to look like popular children’s books. The chairs will be autographed by the artists and auctioned off at a luncheon to be held at noon Friday at the Sherman Municipal Ballroom.

“The chairs, we wanted to do something to represent education,” MasterKey Executive Director Julie Rickey said. “MasterKey’s goal is to help children and families experiencing poverty. We recognize that we want to improve the quality of life, which our food assistance does. More importantly, we want to empower people in poverty. We want to provide education with children and adults. The chairs represent education for us.”

Herald Democrat reporter Drew Smith contributed to this report.

Future Brown is an editor for the Herald Democrat. She can be reached at