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Matawan-Aberdeen school district to introduce preschool

Staff Writer

ABERDEEN — School officials and teachers are putting together a new program for Cambridge Park Elementary School that will grow and strengthen the connections preschoolers need to become successful in the future.

At an April 25 meeting of the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District Board of Education, officials said the purpose of the new Husky P.A.W. Preschool and Wrap-Around Program is to provide a program that will complement the existing half-day preschool by incorporating elements of the HighScope curriculum the district currently uses.

“The curriculum will extend the social and academic learning experience that the children already receive,” said Jackie Kruzik, an instructional assistant at Cambridge Park.

“The wrap-around program will follow the district calendar, so that if you are a preschool student who comes to Cambridge Park in the afternoon, you can do an a.m. program, and if you are an a.m. student attending the academic program, then you can come to the p.m. wrap-around program.”

Cambridge Park Preschool teacher Sandy Rocco said there are many benefits of the wrap-around program, which school officials hope to launch this coming September.

“The idea is to reinforce the skills that they are learning during the school day and to keep that momentum going through a full day,” she said. “This program would provide them social interaction, verbal communication, social development and physical development.”

Rocco said studies even support that high-quality programs for young children produce significant long-term benefits.

“They provide children with significant learning opportunities and involve parents as full partners in supporting their children’s development,” she said. “We are very big on trying to include our parents in this whole preschool program and the process. We find that the parents that are most involved are [parents of] the students who excel the most.”

School officials said students that attend Cambridge Park now would be eligible to participate in this program.

The new program will be tuition-based and will be held during school hours so it is not a before- or after-school program.

“Quality interactions … shape children’s brains and design the neural architecture that will influence how they will handle all future experiences,” Rocco said. “Everything that they need to know, they’re learning now. All the tools that they need, the connections that they need in their brain, this is when they start — in preschool.

“All those connections can be made, and it is a matter of will they be sustained over the years or not, but this is when those connections are formed.

“Studies indicate that even students who are far behind at entry to preschool can develop vocabulary, math and literacy skills that approach national norms if provided with extended-duration preschool that maintains reasonable quality standards.”

School officials have set up a basic time frame of what the day might look like incorporating different elements.

“What is lovely about [this schedule] is that they don’t have to go onto a bus to go to another location,” Kruzik said. “They’ll unpack into their cubbies, there will be some welcome time, they will have daily centers [such as] home living, blocks, small toys, a puzzle area, which are crucial to the HighScope program that we already have, and they would spend a good part of their afternoon or morning in those centers.

“They would also have snack time and physical activity and, of course, music and art, which are key to developing all those connections and then transition/dismissal onto our district busing for a total of 140 minutes.

“We would incorporate a 60-minute lunch/rest time in order for all those connections to take place. It is important to have a healthy lunch and to rest.”

Rocco said the new wrap-around program encompasses many of the state’s best practices, such as adequate physical space, independent access to materials and activities, at least seven learning centers, active and quiet areas with soft furnishings, rest/nap time, a developmentally appropriate playground, support of dual-language learners and incorporating health and safety practices.

“These are all practices that the preschool currently exercises, and we would like to see them continue on into the wrap-around program,” she said.

“Our state-of-the-art classroom will offer a multi-sensory approach to learning as well as a culturally rich environment.”

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Karen Jones praised the teachers and other members of the preschool community on their work setting up the program.

“The program came to fruition through their eyes,” she said. “One of the things I said to them was, ‘I just hope we can marry this program to our instructional programs’ … and the only other thing I asked of them was, ‘Please look at the research, please look at the best practices and let’s find a program that is going to work best for us,’ and that is what they did conceptually and put it all together.”

Interim Business Administrator Thomas M. Venanzi said the district wanted to start off small and is going to be supporting this program through an enterprise fund.

“The enterprise fund concept is like running its own business,” he said. “It is not going to be part of our budget, it will be self-sustaining on fees, so it’ll have revenue, expenses and hopefully it has a positive fund balance.”

Jones said the next step is for her office to put together the pieces for the program, figuring out the times, all the tuition for the program and other particulars.

“As we get that together, we will be sending it out to the Board and out to the community and looking for interest in the program,” she said. “This is the beginning of a lot of things we’re going to be doing.

“We’re looking to start it in September and looking to potentially offer it on a less than a full-week session, possibly a two- or three-, maybe four-day session, to assist with people’s individual schedules.

“We’ll be hiring staff through this program, so the staff will be paid and hired through this program through the enterprise fund.

“I think this will provide a needed service for many, and most importantly I think it is going to give our kids other educational opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

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