Pre-kindergarten class now open to ESM students

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The parents of 54 4-year-olds packed their children’s backpacks and zipped their winter jackets Monday morning in preparation of what some might describe as the hardest day for any mom or dad: the first day of school.

The inaugural classes of the Eastport South Manor School District’s universal prekindergarten program were held Monday at both the Eastport and South Street elementary schools. The program, which is being funded through a $69,889 state grant, will run during the second half of the 2008-09 school year—and at no cost to taxpayers.

One morning session is now being held at the South Street Elementary School in Manorville, while a morning and an afternoon session are being offered at the Eastport Elementary School. Each class features 18 students and will run for two-and-a-half-hours, five days a week.

According to Eastport South Manor’s Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Development Jennifer Hart, school officials began discussing instituting the program in October. Ms. Hart noted that soon after applying for the grant, the district was notified that it would be receiving the money. “We got this together in a very short amount of time,” she said.

Eastport Elementary School Principal Susan Kenny said the transition, so far, has been a smooth one for students. “They come in with their bright smiles and the teachers have nothing but positive things to say,” she said.

A public lottery was held on January 9 because 62 students had applied for the 54 available seats in the program. Ms. Kenny said she hopes that Eastport South Manor can one day offer the service to all of the district’s estimated 300 4-year-olds.

Ms. Hart explained that the district intends to reapply for the grant next year, if the funds are available. The program will likely be discontinued if state money cannot be secured again.

Ms. Hart noted that in addition to prepping children for kindergarten, the free service could help offset the childcare costs being absorbed by some parents.

Lawrence Condon of Manorville, whose son Joe was enrolled at Over the Rainbow Preschool in East Moriches prior to Monday, said the school district’s new pre-kindergarten program will save him “a significant amount of money.”

“So far it’s great,” Mr. Condon said while dropping his son off at Eastport Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s good preparation for him.”

Though classes are held at two of the district’s elementary schools, the program is being staffed and run by Scope Education Services, a not-for-profit organization that provides programs and other services to New York State school districts.

Melissa Francioni, a prekindergarten teacher employed by Scope and based at Eastport Elementary School, noted that she and her fellow staff members are hard at work getting to know their new students. “We’re still learning the classroom and each other,” she said.

Ms. Francioni explained that many of the children enrolled in the program have already attended some sort of school and are used to spending the day away from home. “We didn’t have one single crier,” she added, referring to the first day of classes on Monday.

As part of their day, the students play with trucks, dolls and plastic kitchen sets until it is “circle time.” Ms. Francioni noted that, after circle time, the children participate in projects, are read stories and then enjoy snack time. “Today we’re reading ‘The Snowman Storybook,’” she said.

During snack time, students are usually offered a choice of cookies, Goldfish crackers or pretzels, which are provided through the program.

Four-year-old Mia Peluso, one of the 36 pre-K students attending class at Eastport Elementary School, seemed to be enjoying herself on the program’s second day. “I like playing kitchen,” she said, “and taking naps.”

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