Pre-qualified pre-kindergarten programs ( Pre-K ) to see boost as Act 166 takes effect
By Polly Lynn
KILLINGTON — Enrollment in pre-school has grown at Killington since Betty Hughes took the helm nearly two years ago. This school year, 16 children are enrolled, which is two times the 2014 enrollment. Hughes expects she may have a waiting list next year, as she knows of 17 already enrolled or planning to enroll. Of those, 12 will be returning from her class this year. Admission to pre-k is rolling—children need be just 3 years old to enter.
Part of the reason for this growth, no doubt, is Hughes’s enthusiasm as a teacher and advocate for early childhood development.
Parent Lauren Bisceglia highlighted some of the benefits of Hughes’s P@K program when she said, “We moved to Killington at the beginning of the year for our three boys. Yes, for a different lifestyle, but academics was a first on our list,” she said. “When I first met Betty almost a year ago, I could tell how passionate and sedulous she was inside and outside of the classroom. She strives for students to not only learn on an academic level, but works on building their physical and emotional foundations for the future. Whether it be culture, song, dance, art, the calm elements of yoga or the time spent learning and playing outside, the environment she creates for children is one that is to be cherished. Even with my short time knowing Betty and living here, I cannot express enough what a rare gem she is — we all love her (especially our son!) and will always value her as a friend and teacher,” Bisceglia said.
Another part of the reason for pre-k growth is the state’s new universal pre-kindergarten mandate (Act 166). The governor signed the mandate into law in May 2014, but it was delayed a year from 2015-16 school year to 2016-17 due to challenges with rule-making and school budget processes.
Act 166 requires publicly funded pre-kindergarten education to be offered for a minimum of 10 hours per week for 35 weeks annually to all of Vermont’s 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds that do not make the kindergarten cutoff. Parents looking to enroll their children must choose a prequalified pre-kindergarten education program (private or public) to receive the subsidies. District will pay the statewide rate of $3,092 annually per child.
“We know that all the research suggests that the development in the brain—90 percent of it—happens by the time kids are 5 or 6 years old,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin as he signed the Act 166 legislation May 28, 2014 at the Stafford Technical Center in Rutland. “So providing educational opportunities when they’re 3 or 4 or earlier will make a huge difference.”
P@K is a pre-qualified pre-kindergarten private non-profit program that is housed in the Killington Elementary School (KES) but operates independently.
Despite it’s independence, the pre-kindergarten students in Killington enjoy much integration with the older students in the elementary school joining them for school-wide holiday concerts and sharing the library, cafeteria and gym with them in addition to spending time with their second- grade reading buddies and fourth-grade mentors, Hughes said. Adding that they also share a great partnership with Killington Mountain School with two student mentors and joining them for Tramp Camp (trampolines).
Seven kids from Killington are expected to enroll at P@K next year with another 9-10 students enrolling in its program from neighboring towns. The school districts have budgeted to cover these costs. This year, P@K has 16 students from eight sending towns, which include: Rutland Town, Pittsford, Pittsfield, Mendon, Killington, Woodstock, and Stockbridge.
P@K offers morning pre-k and afternoon childcare five days a week, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with the after school program that extends the day to 4 p.m. Part-time enrollment is also offered.
“Some students started just a few days a week, but are now full time,” Hughes explained. “Their parents saw just how much their children were learning and switched to five days.”
Hughes runs the program with Megan Bates, assistant teacher and Castleton graduate who lives in Stockbridge. Bates did her assistant teaching at KES in the third-grade class and then upon graduation took the job with Hughes in pre-k. Bates brings “creativity and her artistic skills to the classroom,” said Hughes, citing many artistic projects Bates has spearheaded that have enhanced the kids’ learning, understanding and creativity. “We are a great team.”
Hughes has worked in various fields within education for 36 years, but this is her stint working with pre-school age children.
“What an outstanding year,” Hughes said, reflecting on a wide range of events and accomplishments inside and outside the classroom. “What we do outside the classroom is tied in with all aspects of our curriculum and work with the children.”
Hughes said some specific objectives this year included growing a solid school community and strengthening family with community. Fundraisers, field trips, community partnerships and events, and the school ski program help to achieve these goals each week, she added.
Earlier this school year, P@K held a family field trip up the K1 Gondola and hiked to the top of Killington. Last week the kids also participated in King Arthur Flour’s “Learn to Bake” program on Friday, May 20, and just this past Thursday, May 26, the young students and their families visited Billings Farm & Museum and hiked Mt. Tom, both in Woodstock. Other recent events have included a music and art project with all parents at Liquid Art with guitarist Dan Oakes, Mommy and Me Tea on Mother’s Day and Papa Pizza for Father’s Day (celebrated early so that it could be included in the school year). About 35 students and family members attended each, according to Hughes, a very successful turnout.
“Children learn through play, and our classroom is filled with a variety of activity areas giving them the room to explore. We believe that the world is our classroom and there are many exciting opportunities for adventure through a variety of field trips, not only in our own town of Killington, but in surrounding communities as well,” wrote Hughes in a handout introducing the P@K program to new parents.
Parent Regan Smith is very pleased with all that has been offered at the P@K program, saying, “This program is wonderful! The teachers go above and beyond to create a nurturing and independent environment for the children. My child has excelled and I owe it all to this school. Ayden loves going to pre-k!”
In her first five months, Betty Hughes received a 3-star accreditation through the Step Ahead Recognition System (STARS) — a quality recognition system for childcare, pre-school, and after-school programs in Vermont. Earning a minimum of three STARS is required for pre-schools to qualify for state funds.
Hughes earned the school three STARS her first year at the helm. This year, on May 15, Hughes received the school’s four STAR accreditation, leaving just one more star before she achieves her goal — the maximum five STAR accreditation. She’s done most of the final legwork to achieve the final STAR and hopes to achieve the five STAR distinction in the fall of 2016 when school resumes.