The Saugerties school district will start a pre-kindergarten program at two of its elementary schools this January, thanks to a grant from the state Education Department.
“Pre-K programs provide students with a solid foundation for kindergarten, and we’re thrilled that this grant will enable us to give our kids that advantage,” said superintendent Seth Turner. “When I was eleven years old, I volunteered at a preschool program and my mother was the secretary at Saratoga County Head Start, so I saw firsthand how pre-K classes prepare students and provide long-lasting benefits.”
The $161,682 grant will be used to fund the program from its January opening through the remainder of the 2017-18 school year. Students will attend a full day of school, with a 17-student class of four-year-olds at both Mount Marion and Cahill elementary schools. Cahill will also host a 14-student class for three-year-olds.
The Mount Marion program will be run by the Children’s Workshop, a daycare center in Twin Maples Plaza. The Cahill program will be run by Head Start. School officials said the curriculum at both will coordinate well with the district’s academic programs.
“They will be hiring the teacher and will be housed in our building, but we’re hoping to be able to integrate them into the fabric of our school community here at Mount Marion,” said principal Carole Kelder about Children’s Workshop. “I shouldn’t say ‘hoping to.’ I’m certain that we will.”
The details are still being worked out with some guidance from the state. A typical day for students in the pre-K program will begin at 8:30 a.m. with a family-style classroom breakfast. There’ll then be playtime and educational activities, and a family-style lunch together.
“I believe the pre-K program will help ease the transition of children into kindergarten and help them become familiar with the school building and also what it’s like to be part of a school community,” said Kelder. “Over time, we plan on having a reading buddy program, and have the students participate in appropriate school assemblies and activities. And we plan on having the parents come and be part of our PTA. And also the staff from the partnering agency, Children’s Workshop, as well. We want them to feel like they are ours, that they’re going to be part of the Mount Marion family.”
Dawn Scannapieco, principal at Cahill Elementary, said the school and Head Start are working together to help formulate the curriculum for the program’s students, who will have dedicated classrooms.
“We are working on this as we move forward,” Scannapieco reported. “We see our work together as a collaboration. We are very excited for this opportunity for all of our children; it is also of great assistance to parents.”
The criteria for placement in the pre-K program are still being ironed out, but applications will be open to students across the district, even those outside the two schools’ attendance zones. According to school officials, students with disabilities, students who are economically disadvantaged, and students who are English Language Learners (ELL) will be given priority. A lottery system will allocate the remaining slots.
“We’ve been wanting to do pre-K for a few years, and the community wanted it too,” said deputy schools superintendent Lawrence Mautone. “There definitely was an interest. The grant application was a team effort. It’s exciting to have our work pay off and to be able to give kids this opportunity.”
The grant was secured through Ulster BOCES’ Grant Coordination Service. “I’m so excited about this,” said Ulster BOCES grant coordinator Bonnie Meadow. “Saugerties really wanted it, and they really worked for it.”
Kelder said early education is a great benefit for young kids. She said that the district’s inaugural summer kindergarten Jumpstart Academy had been a great success at preparing students for their first year of school.
“Having this pre-kindergarten program is going to be even better,” Kelder said. “I love the little ones, and I try to do a walkthrough every day and stop in each class. They’re so excited to tell me what they’re learning or what they’re going to use for show-and-tell that day. They love to share and be a part of something a little bigger than themselves.”