November 23, 2014

New preschool program targets ‘at risk’ children

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Sept. 30, 2010

By Jess Sanders
Observer correspondent

A competitive Early Education Initiative grant from the Department of Education will allow Allen Brook School to launch a preschool program for children in low income homes, or who speak English as a second language.

“We do have other classes for kids with disabilities, ages 3 and 4. We’ve had that for 20 years probably, but this is brand new to try to meet the needs of other kids who are at risk like kids in poverty and for kids whom English is their second language,” said Carter Smith, director of special education for the Williston School District.

“We’re going to be following pretty much the same curriculum as the (Earliest Essential Education) program,” said Jenny Lyle, who will teach the class. “We use Creative Curriculum and a program called Read it Again, a curriculum that the school district just purchased.”

Though the curriculum is the same, the behavioral and social differences of the children in the preschool program will require Lyle to cater lessons to the individual needs of each child.

“What they do is assess the kids and individualize the program based on the needs of the kids. You’ve got to individualize the program and change it around depending on who shows up,” Smith said.

The classroom will be a mix of children, including students who would do well in a regular preschool classroom, those not considered to be in a financially burdened family or unfamiliar with the English language.

There will be a total of 14 children, though the classroom is not yet full. The program will begin with nine or 10 children, and fill up as the program continues.

“We just let the families know that have applied to be part of this preschool, so we set an open house date of Oct. 6, and our first day of classes will be on Oct. 12,” Lyle said.

One reason Allen Brook School applied for the grant, Smith said, is that standardized test scores for the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, are lower for children on free and reduced lunch programs or for whom English is a second language. Smith feels the school still needs to do its job in seeking out and giving aid to children and families in need of further help.

“I have monthly meetings with other directors in the county and I know that for example Burlington and Winooski are good examples of towns that have a lot of kids and families with English Language Learners, more than we do,” Smith said. “Just because Williston is seen as a middle class community doesn’t mean we don’t have pockets of kids and families that need support.”

According to Manuela Fonseca, the early education coordinator for the Department of Education, Williston was awarded $28,948; the maximum amount is $30,000.

“Williston was chosen because its proposal received enough points to place it within the middle of all proposals submitted,” Fonesca said.

Lyle was hired in the summer, when Allen Brook learned it would receive the grant. Lyle will teach with a paraeducator the two afternoons a week that the preschool will be open, Tuesday and Wednesday.

This program will also include outreach services to local childcare centers.

“There might be some children that are going to attend this preschool that will be in childcare centers throughout this community, and so part of my outreach will be going in and working with the teachers at those childcare centers and maybe brainstorming ideas of things that might work to help the child with social behavior kinds of things,” Lyle said.

Lyle may also bring some ideas from her program conducted in the classroom to the centers, and potentially do some work with the families of the children.

“We’ll learn from them, and they’ll learn from us,” Smith said.

As for next year, Smith knows the preschool will need more funding. The program will be assessed at the end of the year for a grant renewal.

For now, however, the focus is on launching a successful program.

“It’s a start. We’re excited about it,” Smith said.

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