On Grand Ave., Pre-K Takes A Leap
by Melissa Bailey | Jul 23, 2012 11:46 am
Posted to: Schools, School Reform
A buzzing, bilingual preschool is set to double in size next month, after Catholic Charities snagged a share of 1,000 new pre-K seats just allocated by Gov. Dannel Malloy.
Catholic Charities, a not-for-profit agency associated with the Archdiocese of Hartford, scored state money for 19 extra seats in its preschool program at 790 Grand Ave., doubling its capacity at that site, the agency has learned.
The expansion is part of 53 new pre-K seats Malloy awarded to New Haven as part of a promise to expand preschool access amid education reforms that raise expectations and consequences for teachers. The state announced earlier this month that New Haven Public Schools will receive $383,802 in extra school readiness money. The money will pay for 19 extra seats at Catholic Charities Child Development; 18 at St. Francis & St. Rose of Lima School on Ferry Street; and 10 at United Community Nursery School on the Green, according to Will Clark, the district’s chief operating officer. Those are among 24 partner agencies hired by the district to run pre-K programs with state money. The district will also expand the pre-K seats at Hill Central Music Academy from 38 to 40, and from 60 to 64 at Nathan Hale School, Clark said.
Catholic Charities runs one of two full day, 12-month school readiness sites in the New Haven Public Schools system, which has about 1,000 seats.
That meant that on the Friday before last, while most pre-K programs were shut down for the summer, 17 students buzzed around a brightly colored classroom inside Catholic Charities’ unassuming former warehouse near the I-91 highway overpass. Around quarter to noon, they sat on a mat as their teacher, Angelica Flores, read aloud from a summer story book called Tuck In The Pool.
Then they carefully washed their hands ...
... and sat down for a family-style meal.
The students, ages 3 to 5, live in poverty and speak English as a second language. That makes them “really at risk of school failure,” said Tiffany Murasso, director of early childhood programs for Catholic Charities. The program aims to close the achievement gap by helping kids “reach developmental level equal to their suburban peers before entering kindergarten.”
The program focuses on literacy, numeracy, as well as socio-emotional skills, such as “how to wait your turn, how to share, stand up for yourself,” and how to be healthy and safe.
Three new students, who replaced kids who are headed to kindergarten, learned the school rules at the lunch table. They practiced serving themselves scoops of chicken, rice and beans, and slices of apples, all prepared off-site by Lindley Food Service. They practiced cutting their chicken with a knife and fork. Kids, switching freely between English and Spanish, helped regulate the rationing. (“Only two! Solo dos!” apple slices, they informed a new arrival.)
“When they come to us, they don’t even know how to to share,” said Martha Canas, assistant director of the site. “When they go to kindergarten, they are ready for everything—following rules, listening, interacting” with new classmates.
After lunch, kids settled down for a nap.
They were resting up for a lot more learning: The program stretches from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Their day is so long because most kids’ parents are busy working. As a requirement for the program, their guardians must be either working, going to school, or training for a job.
Parents pay on a sliding scale according to their income. For example, families with a household income of roughly $32,000 to $42,000 pay $87 per week for the school.
The program, which has been running for two years, is an offshoot of a preschool that Catholic Charities runs farther down Grand Avenue, at Centro San Jose. The agency runs 10 sites statewide. It offers 20 pre-K seats at Centro San Jose and 20 at Catholic Charities Child Development.
Murasso said the agency has always sought to expand the latter site (pictured), which sits in a spacious, 12,670-square-foot building at 790 Grand. The agency had been using that building for a program for juvenile offenders called Project Apoyo. When Project Apoyo’s grant money ran out, and the space opened up, the agency jumped at the chance to serve families who had been lining up on a waiting list to get into Centro San Jose. Centro San Jose has run a preschool for 12 years; click here to take a peek inside during an appearance by Linda McMahon last year.
Since the school opened at 790 Grand, it has been awaiting expansion. A second classroom has been stocked with furniture, awaiting state approval and the money to make it happen.
Assistant Director Canas said as soon as the agency got the word two weeks ago from the state, workers sprang into action.
“We started painting,” she said.
In a tour, she showed off a new coat of blue paint in the rear classroom.
The school is accepting applications for new students: Families can call (203) 772-1131 or pick up an application at 790 Grand Ave. The program is open to all New Haven residents, regardless of religious affiliation. The center is also looking to hire a bilingual teacher with a B.A.
The agency plans to open to new students next month.
Before then, workers will be hustling to get the room ready for a new crop of children.
“We have always hoped to expand,” said Canas, after helping kids tuck into bed for a nap. “And now the day is here.”
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Great piece. It’s pathetic that Malloy only wanted 500 new spots, and also pathetic that the Legislature only added 1,000. We need more like 10,000 new spots.
This should be our State’s top priority. The kids who don’t get a spot and are poor are all but doomed to poverty or prison. Spending the extra money now up front will save us 20 times that amount of money later on.
This can be done locally, too. NHPS should close a few high schools and redirect that funding toward kids under the age of 5 until that need is fully met.