August 29, 2008

Preschool Gets Room to Grow



The Vail School District's preschool special-education program has more space to operate since the district opened a new facility last month on the Cienega High School campus.

The program now has two locations - one at Cienega and another at the district's main office - to serve both mainstream preschool students and preschool students with mental and physical disabilities.

The Cienega site provides all-day child care to district employees in addition to the other services.

The program is free, but the district will start charging fees once the program receives its license, which could be as early as October, district officials said.

The fees will range from $45 for mainstream students who attend two days a week to $80 for students who attend five days a week.

District employees with students enrolled in the all-day program will pay $100 for five days a week.

Special-education students and students with disabilities attend the program three days a week for free, but parents will have to pay for any additional days. Those fees will be the same as the prices for mainstream students.

More than 40 children attend the preschool program at the Cienega site, which was built by students from the high school's construction-technology class.

The facility opened July 14, the first day of school for the district's elementary and middle school students.

The program has 173 students, including 130 at the district's main office.

District officials expect the expansion to help accommodate a program that is still experiencing substantial growth, including 20 more special-education students compared with when the school year began last July, said Beth Meyerowitz, coordinator of the preschool special-education program.

The program could have about 200 students by next May, Meyerowitz said.

There are eight certified teachers in the program, including six who work in classrooms and two who observe classes, she said.

The district will open up four more classrooms at the Cienega site in the next two years, Meyerowitz said.

The construction class is currently working on the facility's administrative building, which should be done in December, she said.

The expansion comes a year after the district moved the program to its main office in an effort to create space for the program and consolidate resources.

A state law requires certified teachers to accompany preschool special-education students at all times.

The district's special-education teachers previously served more than one school and drove to each to serve students with mental and physical disabilities.

Now the teachers are concentrated in two locations.

"It has helped with growth and allowed us to provide all-day care for the staff. It also has helped get the inclusive preschool program known throughout the district," she said.

Jennifer Grondin-Lee agrees.

"It's helped in regards to the number (of children)," said Grondin-Lee, an early-childhood special-education teacher in the program. "It allowed us to change the model we were using."

The additional space has created more options for mainstream students who attended preschool only twice a week last year, she said.

Mainstream students can now attend up to five days each week, which helps them in their relationships with the special-education students, she said.

"They know the students by their name and not by their disability," she said.

Special-education students attend the program three days each week and are integrated with mainstream students, Meyerowitz said.

The expanded schedule has allowed teachers to spend more time working on special projects and collaborating with other teachers, Grondin-Lee said.

"Because of the change in schedule, we're able to work with other teachers and do observations," she said.

District employees have benefited from the all-day program at the new facility, which caters to employees who have preschool-age children.

"I enjoy the all-day care because I come before any other centers open," said parent Heidi Wagner, the site leader for the preschool program at the district office.

Wagner's 4-year-old twin daughters, Gracelynn and Tyrae, attend the program at Cienega, she said.

Wagner drops her daughters off at Cienega at 7 a.m. before heading to the district office to begin work at 7:15, she said.

The location of the facility at Cienega also benefits Wagner.

"It is only 15 minutes from my house. It's already in town or close to town," she said.

* Contact reporter Jamar Younger at 573-4242 or jyounger

Originally published by JAMAR YOUNGER, ARIZONA DAILY STAR.

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