Hesperia Unified will be teaching twice the number of preschoolers in the coming school year, thanks to a grant from California's First 5 program.

The district taught 96 preschoolers last year at three campuses, all on the west side of the railroad tracks that cut through the city: Cottonwood, Eucalyptus and Joshua Circle Elementary Schools.

In the 2012-13 school year, that will jump to 240 children, adding preschool classes at Juniper and Mesa Grande Elementary Schools, and a summer session before the start of kindergarten in the 2013-14 school year.

The HUSD school board approved expanding the program at their July 9 meeting.

"My goal was to expand it to the east side of town," Superintendent Mark McKinney said later. "And we actually got the dollars for it."

The district had previously warned preschool staff that, if they didn't get grant money again this year, they'd end up letting them go. Now those pink slips have been rescinded. The district received a new $1.3 million three-year grant from the state, up from $627,472 the last time around. As a result, the district will be hiring two additional teachers and four teaching assistants before the new school year begins on Aug. 13.

"We're going to try to target those children who have no preschool experience at all," preschool coordinator Jessica Soto said. "They have an opportunity to be learning different concepts all day long. ... It's set up for them to explore and experiment in an environment that's child-friendly and appropriate for their development."

As school standards have risen, having children ready to succeed in a kindergarten environment where children will be reading and writing by the end of the year is ever more important, she said.

"Probably the most important is for the socialization skills. ... They're learning how to share and how to get along with other children," Soto said. "All of that goes hand in hand with learning the colors and shapes and all of the stuff that helps out in kindergarten."

"It'll magnify and enhance what parents are already doing at home. If they're doing the pre-reading activities and they're doing the structured activities, teaching them to color and point and talk, it'll enhance those experiences," McKinney said. "And for those parents not doing those at home, now there's a structured environment for them to do it at."

Hesperia Unified will be holding preschool registration July 30 from 9 a.m. to noon at the district office, 15576 Main Street. For more information, call (760) 244-4411 ext. 7258 or 7260.