BARNEGAT – Free full-day preschool has made its way to the Barnegat Township School District as part of the state’s $26.9 million Preschool Education Expansion Aid (PEEA) project.
Announced on Jan. 10, 2019, Barnegat Township School District was one of 33 districts included in the second round of state funding to create or expand preschool programs, a first for these communities, according to Governor Phil Murphy’s office. The other Ocean County recipient of second-round funding was Brick Township.
Barnegat schools have received $4.3 million in funding of the nearly $27 million total.
Since the program kicked off in January, there are already approximately 250 students registered in the free program, said Jennifer Froelich, Early Childhood Supervisor for the Barnegat Township School District. Froelich estimated that at least one or two parents call every day wanting to register their 3- or 4-year-old in the program.
Froelich and Director of Student Services Daniel Gunderson told Jersey Shore Online that they project to have about 360 enrolled for the start of the 2019-2020 school year, which is about the maximum amount they can have according to the PEEA’s calculations.
“We started in January, so we’re thinking a lot of people didn’t want to move their kids, but we’ve had people calling every single day to register their kids,” Froelich said.
She confirmed that every child registered for January was accepted into the program and the district continues to add about one or two kids each day.
“We have 24 preschool classrooms, we have six different locations,” said Froelich.
The 250 enrolled students are split between these 24 classrooms, spread out between Cecil S. Collins, Joseph T. Donohue, Lillian M. Dunfee, and Robert L. Horbelt Schools.
Class is also held at the Green Thumb Day Care & Preschool located on Route 9 in Barnegat, as well as The Learning Ladder of Barnegat located on Barnegat Boulevard, adjacent to the Collins school.
“We’ve hired all the teachers and they’re using our curriculum,” at Green Thumb and Learning Ladder, she added.
Each preschool classroom is staffed with one preschool teacher and one paraprofessional.
Froelich recently took Jersey Shore Online on a special tour through the Cecil S. Collins preschool classrooms, which were previously used for administrative purposes.
Just prior to going down for nap time, a handful of preschool students were seen reading on bean bags together on one side of the room, another pair was playing with building blocks, and two others were engaging with the preschool teacher.
The new program brings together the district’s previous preschool program, Preschool Disabled (PSD), with the general education students for one full, six-hour school day.
“[PSD] is students that are often referred to us from Early Intervention,” stated Gunderson. The PSD program takes on referred students, ages 3 or 4, no matter what time of year.
“You have to have the preschool disabilities program for kids that are special education at that age but preschool for typically-developing kids is not a requirement,” he explained.
Prior to PEEA, the district had no full time, full day preschool programs. Gunderson explained that they only had two partial-day sessions servicing about a dozen kids total, in addition to PSD.
The district jumped on the opportunity to use the PEEA grant, “squeezing out” every space viable for preschool classrooms. With PEEA, Barnegat combined both PSD and general education preschoolers for the full-day sessions.
While still harboring concerns about both PSD and general education preschoolers making it through a six-hour day, Gunderson noted that after the first month, “The feedback was ‘pleasantly surprised’,” from most teachers.
The full day session is broken up by a nap time and lunch period.
According to Froelich, an average day in the program has students engaging in tons of hands-on activities for students and covers multiple areas of study including literacy, read aloud, math, music, art, science, and dramatic play, which is where the kids get to dress up and pretend to be doctors or teachers, for example.
Barnegat’s preschool program is so far meeting the standards set forth by the state as part of PEEA.
“Key elements of a high-quality preschool include limited class sizes of 15 children who are taught by a certified teacher and an aide; a transition to full-day programs; and inclusion of special-needs children with an individualized education program,” stated a release from the governor’s office on Jan. 10.
The $4.3 million in funding given to the Barnegat schools has been used to fund curriculum, purchase of furniture and classrooms materials, preschool teachers, and two master teachers, which assist and guide the preschool teachers and paraprofessionals on a daily basis, according to Froelich.
If you wish to get your children into the program, space is still available. The district will be hosting its first registration event for the upcoming school year at the Cecil S. Collins School on Feb. 7, 2019. Sessions will be held at 9:30-11:30 a.m.; 12:30-2:30 p.m.; and 6-8 p.m.
Children must be Barnegat residents and 3 years old on or before Oct. 1, 2019 to be eligible for registration. Be sure to bring your child’s original birth certificate, two proofs of residency, parent ID, immunization records, and a Universal Health Record to register.