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Kudos and Cash for Sag Harbor's New Full-Day Pre-K

Thu, 04/14/2022 - 11:32
Children at the Sag Harbor Learning Center have lots of time to play, make art, and explore science in the district's new full-day prekindergarten program.
Betty Reynoso

The Sag Harbor School District introduced a full-day prekindergarten program for the first time this year, receiving a glowing report card this week from school board members, educators, administrators, and parents.

“It’s so well rounded. It’s incredible,” said Jakki O’Neill, a mother of two, in a phone interview. She said her daughter, Lilah, is getting a solid foundation in letters, numbers, and other skills, and that she is thriving in general there. “The program that they are presenting is just phenomenal.”

With an enrollment of 55 children in three classes, the program is housed at the Sag Harbor Learning Center and runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday.

Betty Reynoso, the assistant Sag Harbor Elementary School principal, oversees the new prekindergarten. During a presentation at Monday’s board meeting, she said participating children learn social skills such as cooperation, responsibility, empathy, and self-control in a playful atmosphere.

“Play is definitely synonymous with learning and life. Our teachers work very hard incorporating this day to day,” she said.

Recent activities included raising and releasing monarch butterflies; making puppets; “shopping” for healthy foods in a simulated grocery store; building planets out of papier-mache acting out the “Surprise Symphony” by the composer Franz Joseph Haydn, and pretending to be paleontologists to study dinosaurs. The children keep journals and learn music and art. The Learning Center has a library, gym, new playground, and rooms for theatrical play and scientific exploration. It has its own school nurse, security guard, and custodian.

Mindy Reyer, one of the teachers, described the curriculum as multidisciplinary and partially guided by the children themselves. “The more the students feel the ownership of their learning, the more engaged they are, so we ask them what they want to learn about,” Ms. Reyer said.

The prekindergarten program does not offer a special-education option. Ms. Reynoso explained that because the children are so young, early intervention services such as speech, occupational, and physical therapies are paid for and delivered by the county.

There’s more good news: New York State has awarded Sag Harbor a universal prekindergarten grant for the 2022-23 school year, a first for Sag Harbor. The district will receive $113,400 to continue the full-day program, though it will have to re-apply for the grant each year.

Ms. O’Neill said the program is also beneficial for working parents, for whom an earlier half-day program was not always convenient.

Hayley Gregor, a parent whose older children also attended the half-day program, said the full-day program “provides the perfect steppingstone” for her youngest.

“My child is provided a mix of learning the basics, like letters and days of the week, with social interaction and lots of play, all while maintaining the structure of authority from a teacher in a classroom that will set them up for success in kindergarten,” she said.

Parents said they liked the secure atmosphere that the freestanding Sag Harbor Learning Center provides. The only drawback, some said, is the heavily trafficked Hampton Street corridor where it is located. “That’s not really a product of the school,” Ms. Gregor said, “just an issue with the town and busy road . . . although I do give credit to the Sag Harbor police and traffic control [officers] who are regularly posted at the corner helping with traffic.”

“The research is clear that there are lasting academic benefits for them, but also money spent supporting a pre-K program comes back to support our school system” in the long run, said Matt Malone, the Sag Harbor Elementary School principal. “It’s a sound investment, community wide.”


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