SOUTHWEST HARBOR — A proposal for a pre-kindergarten program that serves four-year-olds in both this town and Tremont that could begin as early as next fall was presented to members of both schools’ committees last week.
This is the second public pre-K proposal presented within the school district this fall. Mount Desert Elementary School’s committee offered a proposal at the beginning of this month.
Details for the joint program that would serve Tremont four-year-olds for half a day in the morning and Southwest Harbor’s in the second half of the day are still being worked out.
One detail is certain at this point, the preschool classroom would be in Pemetic Elementary School because there is an extra room available. There isn’t any available classroom space at Tremont Consolidated School for a preschool.
“This has been a really interesting set of problem solving.” said Julie Meltzer, director of curriculum, assessment and instruction for the Mount Desert Island Regional School System. “There’s a lot of different ways that this can look.”
A joint program would save each town nearly half the cost of a full program. In total, the program would cost approximately $154,000 with Tremont contributing $78,650 and Southwest Harbor paying $75,450. Tremont is expected to pay slightly more to have students bused to Southwest Harbor in the mornings and back at mid-day.
When officials were asked what would happen if one town decided not to participate, they explained the one participating town would absorb the entire cost of the program.
There is room for 14 students from each town in the program. Children would participate with other preschoolers from their town in order to build community and familiarity for when they enter kindergarten, according to Pemetic Elementary School Principal Rhonda Fortin.
“One of the things this pre-k program would allow us to do is to even the playing field for kids, to start kindergarten more ready,” said Tremont Principal Jandrea True during the presentation. “There is a lot of learning that is expected to happen in kindergarten and first grade.”
According to Fortin, about 75 percent of Maine’s school districts offer a pre-K program. Children who attend a quality preschool are less likely to need special education services or to repeat a grade, which ultimately saves taxpayers money, the principals said.
“What we see now are students coming into kindergarten who struggle with social situations,” said Fortin. “They struggle with emotional regulation – not all of them, but a good portion of them. Having that extra year as a pre-k student and getting those early interventions in that area would really help them.”
Initial conversations have included offering childcare at the Harbor House Children’s Center for working parents with participating children. That childcare, focused on the half of the day the child is not in the preschool program, would be paid by parents.
Busing children to other childcare providers in the area was also an option brought up in the discussion.
In the proposal, the school day for each group of children would be three-plus hours and include lunch and a snack. There would be a full-time teacher and full-time aid hired for the preschool classroom.
“If we have four-year-olds in Tremont or in Southwest Harbor, we would want them to be able to come to this program,” said Meltzer referring to it as a universal program.
In order to include the pre-k program in the budget for school year 2020-21, each school committee is planning to make a decision on whether to pursue it by the end of this year.