Students arrive at Mount Desert Elementary School on the first day of school this year. A pre-K program, which school officials are considering, could offer the potential for more siblings to be together. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Pre-K proposed for Mount Desert school

MOUNT DESERT — Mount Desert Elementary School could offer a pre-kindergarten program for up to 16 children starting as soon as next fall.

Principal Gloria Delsandro and Julie Meltzer, the school system’s director of curriculum, assessment and instruction, presented a pre-K proposal to the town’s school committee last week.

The proposal says the “high quality, play-based pre-K programming for 4-year olds” would mean that more students would enter school with “stronger social skills, improved emotional regulation and early literacy, language and numeracy skills.”

The cost of the pre-K program for the first year is estimated at $180,532, which includes about $34,200 in start-up expenses including furniture and materials.

Most of the ongoing cost of the program would be for salaries and benefits for one teacher and one ed tech.

Delsandro said research has shown that children in pre-K are “less likely to need special education later on, more likely to graduate from high school and earn higher wages, and less likely to become teenage parents and become involved with law enforcement.

“Public pre-K can even the playing field,” she said.

Kate St. Denis, Mount Desert Elementary’s education intervention teacher, said the school is seeing “a greater number of children not being prepared for the social situations they encounter in kindergarten.”

One reason, she said, is that some families can’t afford or choose not to pay for their 4-year-olds to attend a pre-school.

“[They say], ‘Why go to pre-school when you can go to free school,’” St Denis said. “So we get some kids who are not ready for kindergarten.”

Delsandro said the pre-K and kindergarten classrooms would be next to each other on the bottom floor of the school.

“What I envision is an Early Childhood Center … with some fluidity between rooms,” she said. “Our messaging to parents is that kindergarten takes some kids one year, and sometimes it takes two years, and that’s normal and OK. Kids develop in different ways and they’re ready when they’re ready. So, maybe it will take a student two years to get through pre-K and kindergarten or maybe it takes three years.

“We can custom design a program … whatever is in the best interest of the child,” she continued. “And more students will be entering school ready to learn.”

Meltzer noted that children in Maine are not required to be in school until they turn six years old.

“So, even kindergarten is optional for a lot of our kids,” she said. “But most families choose to bring their [kindergarten age children] here.”

As for the proposed pre-K program, Meltzer said, “I think it would become self-evident that it is a really wonderful and thriving and supportive place for kids to be. I think the idea of having their 4-year-old in a safe, fun place that they don’t have to pay for would be pretty attractive.”

Meltzer said the proposal is for a pre-K program that goes the whole school day. One reason for that, she said, is that if the pre-K teacher’s job is full time, “It’s much more likely we’re going to get a high-quality person.”

And she said there could be plenty of down time for pre-K students during the day. Parents might also choose to have their child go for only part of the day or on certain days of the week.

“It’s going to be very fluid,” Meltzer said. “But for some kids, this is going to be the steadiest and most regular time of their day, so I don’t want to say that we can’t offer an opportunity to potentially keep a younger child with their older sibling.

“I think you have the opportunity to do something really wonderful here.”

According to the organization Educate Maine, 75 percent of school districts in the state now offer some type of pre-K education and 44 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in public pre-K.

Meltzer said these programs vary greatly in type and quality.

Still, Mount Desert School Committee Chairman Todd Graham said, “The fact that 75 percent of the school districts are already doing it … it seems we should be there.”

Committee member Kate Chaplin said, “I’m totally in favor of it.”

Committee members indicated Delsandro should include funding for a pre-K program in her proposed budget for next year.

“Education doesn’t cost; it pays,” school system Superintendent Marc Gousse said. “If you invest in kids at an early age, it pays dividends down the road. You’re going to get a huge return on your investment.”

Currently, Trenton Elementary School is the only school in the district that has a pre-K program. Started last year, it is offered in partnership with Head Start, which pays half the cost. Mount Desert Elementary would pay the entire cost of its program.

The Southwest Harbor and Tremont school committees were scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the possibility of offering a joint pre-K program for 4-year-olds in their towns.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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