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Student coloring in prek programThe following story is the fourth in a series about how the East Greenbush Central School District is utilizing COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government to support students affected by the pandemic. The story below will focus on the district’s new Pre-K Program.

This past spring, the East Greenbush Central School District was one of 210 school districts across the state to receive pre-k funding for the first time. The state grant provided $583,200, an allocation of $5,400 per student for up to 108 students, to start a pre-k program for four-year-old children who live within district boundaries.

While the district was grateful to receive that funding, it would not cover all of the program expenses for a full day pre-k program. Therefore, to remain within the school budget and ensure the program was free for families, administrators used funds from the American Rescue Plan to cover the balance of costs ($4,437/student).

Student reading in prek classroom

Pre-K students enjoy looking at books on the classroom rug.

The district worked diligently during the spring and summer to make the program a reality. It created a Pre-K Committee, issued an RFP to local child care organizations, filed an application with the state, created an enrollment application, purchased classroom equipment and hosted a public lottery to determine the 36 students from across the district who would be enrolled.

On October 25 the pre-k program, which is operated by Questar III BOCES, started in two classrooms at Red Mill Elementary School.

“The new Pre-K program is a welcome addition to our district community and we are proud to host the program at Red Mill School,” said Red Mill Principal Helen Squillace. “These young learners benefit each day from engagement in high quality programming designed to enhance their social, pre-academic and general life skill opportunities. The Pre-K students will be well prepared for kindergarten next year!”

As expected, the first few days of school were an adjustment for students, some of whom had never been in preschool or daycare. The teachers – Priscilla Halsey and Alyssa Petraznik – and their teaching assistants – Tonya Olazagasti and Raegan Beaucage – immediately worked on setting a routine and classroom expectations.

“My main goal is that they can sit and listen, that they have an attention span, and that they are used to the routine of school because if they can’t do that for kindergarten then they’re not going to be able to succeed,” said Mrs. Halsey, who has 20 years of experience teaching preschool. “Pre-k is so important to prepare them for what comes next in kindergarten and beyond.”

The classes began by learning about colors and shapes because most students know those well and it helps build their confidence. They practice counting and identifying numbers. They sing songs and dance. They color pictures and look at books.

After six weeks, the students have settled into a routine and are showing great progress. They know how to walk in line down the hallway, they are able to eat meals at their desks and clean up after themselves, and they can follow directions given by teachers.

Pre-K students in the Red Mill library.

Pre-K students have library every week.

The classes have been expanding into more academic areas including writing their names and developing fine motor skills, all while doing so in a fun and nurturing environment. The students also attend library and have structured play in the gymnasium.

Thanks to the federal COVID-19 relief funding, the East Greenbush CSD was able to create an important program that will prepare students for success.

“Research and experience indicates that investing in early childhood education yields big dividends for students and the community in years to come,” said Superintendent Jeff Simons. “Offering comprehensive Pre-K programs improves academic performance in later grades, fosters higher literacy and numeracy rates, and ensures better success at achieving post graduate outcomes for students.”  

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