BRICK – The school district has the opportunity to expand its preschool for four year olds, which would bring general education students together with special education students through a grant being offered by the New Jersey Department of Education.
“This was something that was very quick and sudden,” said Superintendent Gerald Dalton during the most recent Board of Education meeting.
He was contacted during the end of the summer by the Department of Education, informing him about the availability of the Preschool Expansion Grant for certain school districts.
Dalton said Brick had to send someone in for mandatory training within a matter of days, so Warren Wolf Elementary School Principal Theresa Goodfellow and Department of Special Services Director Kristen Hanson attended.
“The opportunity that we have here is, they would fund bringing general education students in to be in an integrated preschool setting, and for every general education student that we would have in a full-day program, there would be around $12,500 per student that would come into the district,” Dalton explained.
The district already runs a preschool program for special education students, but this grant would allow Brick to expand it and offer it as a full day preschool program for more general education students in a ratio of five special needs students to ten general education students, he said.
Dalton said the district should get the word very quickly if the grant has been awarded.
“If we do receive the grant funds, we may be having to move on this as soon as January,” he said. “We have talked to other districts that have done this. We are not expected to implement the entire plan in one year. In fact, they know that it may take multiple years to build up at that level of number of our students in the classes.”
The first year of funding could be approximately $375,000, which would cover any additional staffing needed. Initial classes would be held at the Warren H. Wolf Elementary School.
It was not clear how general education students would apply or be accepted into the new program.
Looking forward, Dalton said there could eventually be up to 16 integrated classes available to the community.
“Being able to offer preschool to that number of children achieves goals for the community, and that we’re offering great, early childhood learning for both general education and special education students,” he said.
Research has shown that early intervention could result in fewer children being classified, so there are multiple goals for the preschool program, the superintendent said.
Without the grant, the district would not be able to afford the full-day preschool program, he added.
Former Board member Larry Reid asked if full-day preschool would be “too much” for four year olds.
Dalton said he did not think so. “In order to accept the dollars from the state it has to be a six hour program. There’s certainly learning involved, but there’s play involved. There’s a lot of very structured activities that are very appropriate for preschool,” he said.
The district is required to follow a strict set of state guidelines that includes time for breaks, time for natural play amongst children and more, he said.
“We think of kids going to school and we think of very structured learning. There’s down time for them. So, no, we don’t believe that it will be [too much].”
Reid asked if the preschoolers would be bussed. Dalton said they would be, and that cost was estimated in the grant.
Special needs preschoolers already get bussed, added Board President Stephanie Wohlrab.
The next Board of Education meeting will be on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Professional Development Center, located at the Veterans Complex.