BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Leighton Harris, 4, sat with her classmates on a rug before a whiteboard. One of her two teachers praised the little girl’s calm, attentive posture: “I love how Leighton is sitting.” A year before the start of kindergarten, Leighton is well-prepared, having already practiced not just her letters and numbers, but also subtle skills key for school success, such as breathing through stress and the art of sitting quietly and listening.

Julie PreskittJulie Preskitt

The prekindergarten program at the state-of-the-art James Rushton Early Learning Center is also a lifeline for Leighton’s mom, Dameka Turner, a single mother of three, who works at a medical call center. Thanks to Alabama’s growing investments in early education, the state’s pre-K system is among the nation’s best.

And it’s free.

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