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Early Start gets a boost

When the public was asked to share concerns with the School Board regarding its upcoming budget, one of the programs parents held nearest and dearest was Early Start.

Now, per the directive of the School Board, school administrators are revamping the program to bring it to every school with a kindergarten in the Suffolk Public School system.

Nine schools already had the program; the remaining four elementary schools — Robertson, Southwestern, Northern Shores and Creekside — will now be included.

“After hearing so much about the pre-K program, I was surprised to realize that some of the schools didn’t have it,” said School Board member Enoch Copeland, who represents Holland. “If this is such a great program, why didn’t some of the schools have it? I’m glad to know we now have an arrangement that allows for all our children to benefit from it.”

Early Start is a pre-kindergarten program that helps prepare younger students intellectually and socially for kindergarten.

The program began in Suffolk schools in 1995 with five classrooms and has expanded to 24 classrooms with 24 teachers and their assistants serving approximately 350 families. Last year, 500 parents of 500 students applied for admission to the program.

All students within the system previously had the ability to apply for the program and attend at another school if their regularly assigned school didn’t offer the classes.

Now, the 24 classrooms will be divided among the 13 participating elementary schools.

While the redistribution will require no new staff, school administrators expect costs to include the relocation of mobile classrooms to Southwestern and Robertson Elementary schools at approximately between $2,000 and $2,500 per unit.

The shift may also include moving other programs in the nine currently participating schools in order to add Early Start to the other four buildings, administrators said.

For example, if an Early Start class leaves Florence Bowser Elementary School, an early childhood special education class at Creekside Elementary School could possibly be moved to Florence Bowser Elementary School to make room for an Early Start class at Creekside Elementary School.

While the exact repercussions of the ripple effects are still unknown, “the fact that rural areas were left out of the program is a real slap in the face,” Copeland said. “They should be given the same opportunity as the other kids. They shouldn’t be denied an equal education because of where they live.”