SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Area students began their first day of a joint full-day pre-K program last week and school administrators of the partnership between Southwest Harbor and Tremont say it’s off to a great start.
Tremont voters approved $85,000 to start a half-day pre-K program during their annual town meeting in 2021 while voters in Southwest Harbor approved $80,000 during their town meeting. The program was half day last year, with Tremont students attending in the morning from September to January and Southwest Harbor students attending in the afternoon. In January, the groups switched time slots.
The full-day program, which was open to children who turn 4 before Oct. 15, is typically capped by the state at 16 students per town. However, the school recently underwent a special process to allow for a total of 17 students (10 from Southwest Harbor and seven from Tremont) to attend this year.
“Eighteen students [are] a lot of energy for one classroom. As little kids, they are figuring out what their rules and responsibilities are, so there are a lot of things to learn about,” Mount Desert Island Regional School System Superintendent Michael Zboray said.
Day care owner and pre-K parent Jordan Harkins of Tremont said the program seems to be going well, though there has been some confusion about lunch and the transportation to and from school.
Full-day programs are great and are extremely helpful for working parents, said Harkins said, who believes the program also helps children prepare more for kindergarten by establishing a good school relationship and routine.
“This pre-K program is so important to the children of our community because they can learn to be more independent, follow simple instructions, such as lining up and picking up after themselves, as well as have a better understanding of their social and emotional skills,” she said.
Parents do not pay tuition for students to attend and transportation is provided from each town.
Trenton Elementary School was the first in the district to offer public pre-K to 4-year-olds in the town. Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert and Tremont all proposed pre-K programs that would have started in the fall of 2020, but those towns withdrew their requests shortly after the pandemic began. Mount Desert Elementary School is in its first days of a pre-K program, while Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor currently does not have one.
Pre-K student screening took place in August before the start of school for registered children. Parents were advised how to prepare incoming students, including bathroom training, practicing wearing a mask, following directions and social skills such as how to be a good friend, as well as reading to the child.
“I’m excited that more schools are having a pre–K and I’m hoping for Bar Harbor to eventually have one,” Zboray said.