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Ronan district opens new preschool

RONAN — It’s Friday afternoon and the scene is perfectly pristine. In a school yard, 15 four-year-old children laugh and play as the sun makes a dramatic pre-spring appearance in the valley. 

But it’s not a day care or private preschool that the 15 exuberant children are enrolled in. The students are part of Ronan-Pablo Preschool, a public preschool funded by a grant called the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative.

The school district’s motivation to offer a preschool stems from the wants and needs of the community, Nick Bejarano Safe Schools/Healthy Students Program Director said.

“There were a significant number of preschool age children in this community whose parents wanted them in a preschool program but were unable to get them into (a preschool class) for reasons of funding, transportation or classroom space,” Bejarano said. 

With the new preschool, funding and transportation become a non-issue for members of the community who are interested in preschool. If the district is able to expand their preschool to meet the needs of more children, available classroom space will enable other families to take advantage of the public preschool as well.

According to some educators, preschool has evolved into a classroom where children learn tools that will assist them when they enter kindergarten and throughout elementary school, academically and socially. 

“Preschool is important because it affords young students the chance to acclimatize to a classroom setting and to begin their formal exposure to literacy and numeracy,” Bejarano said. 

Eileen McMillan runs Firm Foundations, a private preschool and thinks more emphasis has been placed on preschool in recent years due to programs such as Success For All and Reading First. Children are expected to be prepared for kindergarten and that’s where preschool comes in, shaping children’s minds cognitively and socially. 

“Generally speaking, preschool raises the level of kindergarten readiness across the board for a particular group of children and thus prepares them for success in future grades,” Bejarano added.

At the Ronan-Pablo preschool, teacher Denise Lloyd agrees. Formerly an elementary school teacher and with three small children of her own, she understands what a child needs in order to be prepared for kindergarten. 

In her class students learn to recognize letters, basic shapes and colors and how to count. Hopefully by the end of the year, the preschool students will learn how to write their name as well as recognize their names in print — all tools that will serve the young students well in kindergarten and beyond.

Since the preschool is just in the afternoon, Lloyd and the two para-professionals, Libby Sherman and Nikki Schutzmann tutor K. William Harvey students in the morning. In the afternoon, the three teachers switch buildings from K. William Harvey to a rented room in the Head Start building. 

Lloyd enjoys the opportunity to work with different ages and is excited about the new preschool. She thinks the school district is on to something positive.

“They see the need,” Lloyd said. “And they see that there are so many kids that need this service.”

According to Bejarano, the district has no intention of taking business away from day care providers and private preschools and has worked hard to keep local childcare providers informed.

McMillan doesn’t see the public preschool as a threat to her preschool. 

Prior to the opening of the preschool, the school district invited the owners of local preschools and day cares to a meeting to discuss the opening of the public preschool.

“They had a meeting and wanted to know what we thought,” McMillan explained that some of the day care providers were upset about the opening of the public preschool. But she wasn’t bothered.

“The more kids you can service the better,” McMillan said. “Day care is day care and preschool is something else. There is a huge demand for day care but also a need for preschool.”

She said that she hasn’t lost any students to the free preschool and her preschool continues to grow yearly.

“There is a certain population out there that maybe can’t afford us,” McMillan said. “And if they want to go there, that’s great.”

Inside the Ronan-Pablo Preschool there are six specific learning centers, where kids can participate in different activities: dramatic play, blocks, writing, reading, science and manipulatives with math and classifications. 

Besides benefiting children socially and academically, preschool also helps children develop hand-eye coordination. Fundamentals such as holding a pen or holding scissors are learned at preschool.

The preschool provides children with just enough structured learning to introduce them to the classroom setting, and adds enough free time and playtime to not overwhelm the rambunctious four-year-olds.

“The preschool is part of a child’s growth into that wider community,” Bejarano said. “It is a place that offers the structure and foundation necessary for a child’s future academic achievement.”

And the school district will continue to provide that educational foundation for families that are seeking the best for their preschool-aged children, as long as grants like the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative are available.

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