New pre-K program starts at BKW

BERNE — A pre-kindergarten program at Berne-Knox-Westerlo will be kicking off this school year.

The program will teach students to listen, follow directions, and interact socially. They’ll also learn language skills, and phonetics. Students will report to BKW on Sept. 17.

The program, with 24 students, will run Monday through Friday, and have two 12-student classes — one in the morning and another in the afternoon.

Originally set to begin Sept. 10, BKW officials chose to delay the program’s start to coordinate transportation and to be sure students had required immunizations.

To fund the program, BKW received a $59,400 grant from the New York State Universal Pre-Kindergarten Program. This is the first year BKW has received the grant, said Kimberly LaBelle, BKW’s assistant superintendent for elementary and special education.

BKW applied for the grant with Head Start, a national program promoting school readiness. Currently, the New York State Universal Pre-Kindergarten Program grant is an annual grant, and schools are required to apply each year.

This year’s state budget has $146 million for universal pre-kindergarten — money that any school district in the state can apply for. Funds are awarded on a per-child basis, according to a formula that takes into account a district’s wealth.
"It’s quite a bit of work, trying to find someone to collaborate with, which is a big stipulation of the grant," LaBelle said of the grant.

While many residents in the BKW school district may not know about the new program, parents of 4-year-olds do, she said. To gauge community interest, BKW sent letters to parents of 4-year-olds in April, asking if they would be interested, and 22 families responded favorably, LaBelle said.

With Head Start’s help, BKW hired Lisa Momberger as the teacher and Marge Capuano as teaching assistant. Head Start’s program had been taught in the Thompson’s Lake Reformed Church in East Berne.

Prior to BKW offering the program, parents had always shown an interest, said Brian Corey, BKW’s elementary-school principal.

At an open house earlier this month, parents were excited the program would be housed at BKW and thought it a nice introduction to the school system, he said.

The pre-kindergarten program, Corey said, will be the same as the program taught by Head Start at Thompson’s Lake, but it will be in conjunction with BKW.

Supplies and materials for the class will come from three different sources — BKW, the Head Start program at the Thompson’s Lake Reformed Church, and some will be purchased with the grant money, said Corey.

Some of the grant money will be used to hire a social worker, who will help the students transition from pre-kindergarten to kindergarten, said LaBelle.

BKW will provide transportation for the students on a limited basis. Students in the morning class, which begins at 8 a.m., may ride the bus to school but must be picked up by a parent or guardian when class ends at 10:30 a.m. Students in the afternoon class may be bussed home after class ends at 2:15 p.m. but must be dropped off by a parent or guardian in the morning. Class for the afternoon session begins at 11:45 a.m.

Orientation will be held Friday, Sept. 14.

Currently, two students are on a waiting list, said Corey. He speculated that interest in the program will grow as the school year goes along. Some pre-school-age students were enrolled elsewhere before BKW offered the program.

To enroll students in the program, some students are chosen by random selection and others are selected if they are eligible for the Head Start program, which is for low-income families.

While other pre-kindergarten programs are offered in the area, Corey said, BKW is not trying to take anything away from those programs but is trying to add to its own.

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