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School Preps for Pre-K: To start with one session and 14 kids

Posted on 09 September 2010

On Monday, September 13, Sag Harbor Elementary School will ring with the voices of hundreds of students returning for the fall semester. A ground floor classroom of the building will teem with the sound of the youngest students, and a much anticipated, much discussed new addition to the elementary school program, the pre-kindergarten class.

Since 1998, former elementary school principal Joan Frisicano lobbied for establishing a pre-k, as she watched many of the surrounding districts establish their own programs. By last year, the district reinvigorated a commitment to bringing a pre-k course to Sag Harbor. Faced with a tough budget year, the Sag Harbor School Board opted for a tuition-based program operated by SCOPE, a not-for-profit education service, which would only cost the district $30,000 for supplies, playground equipment, and creating a young child-friendly bathroom.

According to assistant principal Donna Denon, who has been managing this effort, so far 14 children have signed up for the program. Although the school had originally hoped to offer both a morning and afternoon session, due to the attendance rolls the school will host only a morning class from 8:45 to 11:15 a.m., five days a week. Both a teacher and bi-lingual teaching assistant will oversee the class. The program will cost around $275 per month. Eligible students must be four years of age by December 1, 2010, toilet trained and a resident of the district, say school documents.

As the community vetted the various pre-k options, some worried that a tuition-based pre-kindergarten would deter the students most in need of early education services from registering. Denon noted that four students requested scholarships, and SCOPE has decided to spread out this aid amongst the students. Each of these children will receive a reduced tuition, instead of one or two having their school fees paid in full.

In a previous interview Denon, who previously coordinated the Southampton School District’s pre-k program, said SCOPE’s curriculum is “rich in academic experiences … and is aligned with the New York State standards.”

She explained that the program is theme and concept based. For example, said Denon, in the fall the students will incorporate harvest crops, like apples and pumpkins, into their lesson plan and apply these concepts across disciplines like math and art.

For many of the children who plan on attending the pre-k program, Denon added, English is their second language. The pre-k programs, she explained, allow them to begin their language acquisition early through learning and being surrounded by English. She noted that if something needs to be clarified for Spanish speakers, the teaching assistant will be on hand to help these students. The teaching assistant will aid parents as well, who may not speak English fluently, in understanding for example school celebrations or why they have been called to the school for a meeting.

Denon believes the program will grow in numbers as the community becomes acclimated with the new class.

“There is a transition period … Parents want to feel confident and secure [in the pre-k program] that is welcoming and safe. I want to get to that level of confidence,” Denon said, noting that many parents rely on the positive testimonials of other parents before enrolling their children in a new program.

“If we give the program a little more time it will grow,” Denon added. “As a pre-k director you will start to see parents register in September and October. You never thought you would have an afternoon session and then you do. Some parents are not aware that the program exists. Some parents’ work schedules have changed.”

Denon noted that the school has an open enrollment policy and students can enter the class anytime throughout the year.

In terms of measuring the success of the program, Denon said she will keep a keen eye to see how well the program acclimates students to kindergarten. She added that she and elementary school principal Matt Malone continue to discuss ways to make the program publicly funded. Federal spending for new programs, she noted has been frozen, and she is hoping that if funding becomes available the school would be a good candidate because they already have a program in place. With federally funded programs, however, there are often certain regulations like a lottery system and space limitations.

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