ELYRIA — A preschool program housed in a public school and largely funded by a private foundation is a huge part of the New Beginnings initiative at Franklin Elementary School.
Wednesday night, parents and potential young students were given a firsthand look at the new collaborative.
Eager young eyes spied the surroundings of the elementary school with wonder. Colorful walls, classrooms and images of Petey Pioneer gave the preschoolers an introduction to what it will mean to be an Elyria Schools student.
“I get goosebumps every time I think about what we are doing here,” said Elyria’s director of academic services, Ann Schloss. “It’s unheard of to have this kind of commitment from a foundation for our youngest learners.”
A lot of work still needs to be done to prepare the school for the 2014-15 school year when New Beginnings kicks off, but a short tour for Stocker Foundation Executive Director Patricia O’Brien and board member Jane Norton served as the perfect indicator that the $1.25 million donation to be doled out over five years will be used to ready preschoolers for school in a new way.
At the end of the year, three first-grade classrooms will be renovated into two preschool classrooms as well as a fine motor room for “purposeful play.” Other currently unused spaces will be transformed into a computer lab and multi-purpose room both for students and parents.
Franklin Principal Lisa Licht said four students already are enrolled in the program that will be capped at 36. And, based on the attendance of the open house, filling the remaining slots should not be a problem. Each class will be taught by teachers with four-year degrees and preschool teaching licenses.
“We are already thinking of what we should do once we have more students than available slots,” Licht said. “The buzz about the collaborative has not worn off for us and we know this will be perfect for our building. We are always looking at ways to do things differently.”
Nuances include more technology, support resources and professional development for teachers and services for parents. The preschool program is five hours, four days a week. In addition, older students will have a longer school day come next year.
When asked why Stocker Foundation took such a risk with Franklin, O’Brien pointed out that since 2010, the foundation has funded several programs in Elyria Schools included the highly regarded Wilson Fundations.
“The little pieces were the foundation building us to this moment,” she said. “Now, we are ready to track how well this works for Franklin. Who knows what that could mean for the rest of the district for the future?”
At the district’s administration building where Kindergarten Village and the Early Childhood Center are housed, a half-day preschool program is available. However, it is a selective program, Schloss said.
Giving more students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, access to preschool goes a long way toward closing the academic gaps seen years later in standardized testing.
“That birth-to-five period is so crucial and to be able get to students early is what makes the big difference,” she said. “It wasn’t like when we were in school. Students are expected to know so much more when they come to kindergarten.”