Rahway Four-Year-Olds Raise the Banner High for Full Day Preschool!
Story by: Rob Kinch
Photos by: Joseph Mudrak
Thanks to a recent $2,700,000 PEEA grant by the New Jersey Dept. of Education, eight classrooms in five Rahway District schools have been magically transformed, in almost the wink of an eye, into warm, welcoming, age and developmentally appropriate learning environments for 260 four-year-old Rahway preschoolers. Through the dedicated efforts of Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Patricia Camp, and the tireless planning and hands-on preparation of her administrative team along with nine new and four veteran preschool teachers, Rahway’s ‘littlest learners’ can now reap the educational rewards of a full day of high-level preschool activities.
Paramount on Dr. Camp’s list of priorities was to ensure that each new teacher receive the most thorough exposure to the many strategies and tools needed to provide an optimal learning experience daily for each young student…before AND after his or her nap time! To that end, new teachers enjoyed two weeks of extensive professional development covering such target areas as classic district orientation, everyday curriculum planning and guidelines, establishing daily routines, and working with bilingual students. On October 2 + 3, Field Consultant from HiScope Educational Foundation, Ms. Mary Pirkola, offered Rahway’s new and veteran preschool teachers basic curriculum instruction while citing, “More time (full day) permits teachers to give more individual attention and differentiated instruction.” New teacher Melissa Vizzi found that, “Having all this training has given me a great deal of self confidence.” Jennifer Donovan would definitely agree as she discovered “different ways to make exploring new things fun!” Veteran preschool teacher from Rahway’s Madison School, Barbara Fortunato, was pleased to have the opportunity to spend time with the new teachers. She affirmed that it was “exciting sharing and bringing new ideas and experiences to the table to learn.”
Within the next few days, a new level of excitement grew as preschool teachers throughout the district set their sights on turning empty classrooms into inviting rooms of wonder and allure for a soon-to-arrive parade of little feet stepping inside, albeit some with a decided bit of trepidation! As box after box of carefully chosen preschool educational items were brought in by Lakeshore Learning, teachers gleefully unpacked and organized their classrooms with such treasures as ‘Grandma and Grandpa’ shoes and hats, a sand and water table, and a mini kitchen set-up that would elicit jealousy from even the most discerning of chefs. With many avoiding the obvious temptation to sample the ‘fun’ that their future students would have with these items, teachers were resolute in having their classrooms up and running and in perfect order for opening day, October 10. During their organizing, when asked about their hopes for the first few days of full day preschool and for what they wished to accomplish, new teachers were more than eager ‘to share’ (a skill they would no doubt be instilling in their new students!). Monica Moreno, new to the Rahway District, sees as her goal “to keep my students safe, keep them challenged, and keep them feeling supported.” Previously a long-term Rahway substitute teacher, Sarah Jencsik, finds the first few days “crucial” because, “We’re establishing routines, and getting children used to being away from Mom and Dad for a whole day.” Carianne Solecki will focus on helping her students “adjust to and love school and, especially, to love learning” while Joann Velez is eager to assist her preschoolers “to grow socially and emotionally” and to help “meet their individual needs.”
As was the vision of all who contributed to the timely realization and ultimate excellence of Rahway’s new program, October 10 witnessed the opening of 8 new preschool sections along with the transition of 4 current half day sections into full day. As new and current preschoolers filed in to begin their journey into the uncharted world of ‘school all day,’ they barely noticed the sighs of relief and the tears of pride and of accomplishment shared by both their teachers and administrators as well.
Shortly after on October 12, Rahway District Superintendent Dr. Camp, Asst. Supt. Dr. Sheard, and Board of Ed. President Lori Kennedy welcomed Ms. Maryanne Preztunick from Pre-K Our Way, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization led by former NJ governors Kean and Florio, to tour the new preschool wing in Rahway’s 7th and 8th Grade Academy and to join in the official ‘banner raising’ which christened the launch of Rahway’s new full day preschool program. “The focus of Pre-K Our Way,” Ms. Preztunick explains, “is public education and issue advocacy directed toward the funding of a 2008 state law that brings NJ’s high quality pre-k to hundreds of the state’s communities, and to the 50,000 3- and 4-year olds waiting each year for access to pre-k.” “Rahway is now one of 26 additional communities receiving state funding for full day preschool.” After sharing the day with eager little learners and their enthusiastic teachers, she adds, “Rahway’s newest preschool classrooms are open and welcoming with teachers, aides, bright colors, educational materials, and limitless opportunity for imagination and socialization.” “In less than 75 days, classrooms were reimagined into colorful and creative spaces full of possibility and independence.”
Roosevelt Elementary School Principal, Dr. Cary Fields, clearly recognizes the magic that will be performed daily amid the tears, the triumphs, (and the occasional tantrum) in these brightly colored homes-away-from-home for Rahway’s young citizens. “Our students are beginning to develop their reading and math skills through play, but for them, it’s just fun…they are happy and they are learning!” After all, one must never underestimate the power of those ‘Grandma and Grandpa’ shoes.