PRE-K AT THE LIMIT, AND LIKELY TO STAY

pre-k2Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction, John Bombardier, with a pre-k student. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

After two years of growth, the number of children in Red Bank’s lauded pre-kindergarten program is likely to stay static next school year, a direct result of the state’s dire budget situation.

“I don’t know that we’ll be able to expand, but we expect we’ll have the same number of children for next year,” Superintendent Laura Morana said.

Now taking up residence at various locations throughout the borough, the early education program tailored to three- and four-year-olds is at capacity, with 238 students, plus a waiting list.

And Morana can’t stop singing the praises of the state-funded initiative, in which only five school districts in the state were selected to participate.

On Thursday, Morana took redbankgreen on a tour of the newest space utilized by the district, at St. Anthony of Padua church on Bridge Avenue, where students take up four classrooms.l-morana1

“Without that incredible partnership we would not have been able to expand the program,” said Morana, right. “One thing we’ve seen is how much the children benefit from in this learning environment.”

Students are spread out in classrooms among the Primary School, Tower Hill School, Monmouth Day Care Center, the Community YMCA, Head Start on Drs. James Parker Boulevard and, since September, St. Anthony’s.

Morana touted the program’s simple curriculum — learning through playing, essentially — as a much-needed springboard into formal schooling.

Students set goals each day, which they must write out, associating themselves with writing skills. And they get a jump start on math every day when they look outside to check the weather, then graph the different types of days they see.

The program also primes the youngsters’ social skills, Morana said.

“The children are responding beautifully,” she said. “They’re like little people who have adjusted so wonderfully, like these little middle schoolers showing up everyday.”

Even if additional funding does come through — and it isn’t completely ruled out — Morana said the borough might not  be able to handle the extra students right now.

“We’re pretty much filled to capacity now,” she said. “I would love to have two additional classes but I don’t see how that can happen because we just don’t have the space.”

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Another initiative the district is launching is a new approach to parent-teacher conferences: cut out the teacher, substitute kid. Or, more accurately, student-led conferences, with the teacher present.

In education speak, they’re called “student-led conferences,” meaning rather than having the teacher meet with parents to explain how their child is doing, the child has to own up to their grades, good or bad.

The idea is for the students to take ownership of their work and be able to identify and explain their strengths and weaknesses, said John Bombardier, supervisor of curriculum and instruction.

“It’ll be just a way to place the child in a leadership role and assume the responsibilities for their progress,” he said.

The pilot program gets started in February, and will only be used in the fourth grade. After that, the school board will assess it and determine whether to expand the idea to other grades.