PLYMOUTH - School officials say full-day pre-kindergarten is already showing results halfway through its first year and is not costing the school district anything extra thanks to state funding.
The district received a $75,000 grant last spring to start the new Smart Start program for ages three and four, hiring Nicole Onofrio as the fulltime certified teacher. Onofrio, Jennifer Parsons, district director of curriculum and instruction, and Chrystal Collins, Plymouth Center Elementary School principal, gave a presentation about it to the Board of Education recently.
Parsons explained that about three years ago the state’s Office of Early Childhood started the Smart Start grant program to expand access to public preschool, giving priority to districts that were deemed in need.
That included Plymouth, which has “more preschool students than there are spots for preschoolers in town,” and already had a full-day kindergarten program, she said.
The grant money was used last summer to make improvements to Plymouth Center to house the program.
“Some of those improvements really are helping all of our pre-k students. We put in a new sandbox outside, we added playground equipment, we added a bathroom to a classroom. We fully furnished the classroom with grade appropriate sized furniture and materials for instruction, including technology,” Parsons said.
The Smart Start program opened last August with 18 students, she said. “The classroom is full, people are happy, and they are doing very, very well.”
Last year the district allocated some extra money to the Smart Start program, which turned out not to be needed, Parsons said. “This year we are not asking for any additional money. This full day classroom is funded fully through the grant. It’s not costing any additional money to the district.”
She said that for the next seven years the grant will supply $75,000 a year to pay for staff as well as some of the expenses associated getting accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which is considered the highest standard of quality in early childhood programs.
Parsons commented that she would like to see Plymouth Center’s three half-day pre-k programs accredited, as well as the full-day one, by the end of 2018-19.
Studies show that children who go through pre-kindergarten have a decreased incidence of needing special education services or to repeat a grade, as well as having a higher rate of high school graduation, she said.
Obtaining the NAEYC accreditation and regular feedback from the state are some ways of measuring the program’s success, she continued. “We’re going to be looking at students over time, to compare kids who grew up in our pre-K programs, kids who didn’t have pre-K, and kids who went to pre-K but not our program.”
Onofrio described some of the activities that she and the students have been doing since the beginning of the school year, such as writing the letters in the students’ names, and tracing upper and lower case letters, to help their pre-literacy skills and fine motor development.
In art, they do painting, coloring within the lines, cutting, and gluing. During book corner, they learn about the parts of a book, what an author’s and illustrator’s jobs are, and reading from left to right. In math, they sort tangrams by color, shape, and size, and do counting games. In science, they identify and label the parts of pumpkins and apples, and describe the textures as smooth, rough, or bumpy.
They have activities for social and emotional development, a visit from local firefighters, after school activities such as a gingerbread house workshop and more.
Collins praised Onofrio “for bringing this program to life in our school” and for sharing her past experiences with the NAEYC accreditation process with her Plymouth Center colleagues.
The school’s entire pre-k team now meets weekly to talk about curriculum, instruction, assessment, and more, Collins said. “We are really collaborating in a way that we’ve never done before.”
Preparations are already underway for 2018-19, she said. The three year olds currently enrolled in both the full-day and half-day programs will have the opportunity to re-enroll first, and which will be followed by open enrollment by lottery in February, parents notified by March, and an orientation in May.
The full Smart Start Update presentation is available on the district website https://plymouth.k12.ct.us/ under Kindergarten Registration 2018-2019.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.