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New CCSD59 Preschoolers Welcomed on First Day of New Preschool Program

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A flurry of activity was happening at Ridge Family Center for Learning on Thursday, July 27, 2017. Parents and guardians held hands with some of CCSD59’s newest and smallest students. Families could be seen throughout the halls speaking to staff members and looking for classrooms, as curious Ridge students in kindergarten through 5th grade, who had their first official day of school the day before, were all smiles. Some of the “seasoned” Ridge students offered kinds words or directions as they welcomed their newest classmates to their school.

July 27 marked the kick-off of CCSD59’s new preschool program, which is hosted at Ridge but is open to all CCSD59 families with qualifying 4-year-old children. It is a new program for the 17-18 school year and is free to families whose children qualify to attend, even providing snacks and school supplies at no cost.

What is the difference between the program offerings at the ELC and the new preschool program at Ridge?

The ELC offers both a tuition-based program for children who are typically developing and a grant-based program (Preschool for All) funded by the state of Illinois. Children who are 3-5 years old, not eligible for kindergarten yet, and meet the program criteria may qualify under the grant. The ELC also offers special education programming for children who have special needs. All of these students are integrated into classrooms together to meet the needs of the grant.

The Ridge preschool program offers a free-tuition preschool program for typically developing children. There is an application process based on family income and access to public benefits and other state aid. This program is more aligned to a community preschool but is free for families that qualify.

Children who do not qualify to attend the Early Learning Center’s (ELC) at-risk or special education programs may still qualify to attend the new preschool program, which follows Ridge’s balanced calendar. CCSD59 offers a half day program with morning and afternoon sessions.

CCSD59 created the new preschool program to provide a high-quality preschool experience that will both meet the needs of families in the CCSD59 community and assist children with the transition into kindergarten.

“Our mission is to prepare students to be successful for life. Some of our students begin schooling in CCSD59 missing some essential experiences and skills that are necessary to begin kindergarten,” said CCSD59 Superintendent Dr. Art Fessler. “By providing these services, we are able to identify students with needs and develop and build skills and experiences that will improve a student’s chances of being increasingly successful as they begin schooling in our district.”

The program already has 62 families enrolled, with a maximum enrollment currently set at 80 students. Teachers in the program are trained in the same curriculum many community schools utilize and focus on intentional and appropriate activities to support development for 4-year-olds preparing for kindergarten.

According to Karen Starr, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, the program offers a hands-on, structured learning experience in a school setting with other children prior to starting kindergarten. Children may vary greatly in their preparedness for the social norms of a school environment, and getting acquainted to new environments can cause stress and anxiety that can influence a child’s perception of school. Having a strong, supportive introduction to a new learning environment can help set students up for greater success, especially when they begin kindergarten.

Kick-off day on July 27 included getting-to-know-you activities, a snack, picture day, and the opportunity for children to get acclimated to their new classrooms. It was a proud day for the CCSD59 staff who worked hard to see this program become a reality this school year.

“We are so privileged to have the resources available to be able to offer this program,” said Starr. “Our board of education is in full support of CCSD59’s early learning initiatives, and this program is a perfect example of how important early learning is to our district. Our goal is to prepare children to be successful for life, and the earlier we can reach them, the more likely they are to gain the foundational skills that will prepare them for school and beyond.”

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