Preschool is a hit at Williams Elementary-Middle School

Children enjoy a break during the first day of preschool at Williams Elementary-Middle School.

Photo by Wendy Howell.

Children enjoy a break during the first day of preschool at Williams Elementary-Middle School.

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Paisley Orozco enjoys the swings during the first week of preschool at Williams Elementary-Middle School.

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A young girl swings during a break from preschool.

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A girl plays on the swings at the Williams Elementary-Middle School preschool.

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A girl plays on the swings at the Williams Elementary-Middle School preschool.

After some uncertainty as to whether there was enough interest in a new preschool program at Williams-Elementary Middle School (WEMS), administrators are now sorting through a wait-list for the program.

Administrator Maya Caldwell said she is pleasantly surprised with the number of families who applied for the new grant-based preschool at the school.

“I tried to contact the families of every four year-old I could find this summer and let them know about the program,” Caldwell said. “Our goal is to be at capacity and we want every child served whether at Head Start or here. Those are basically our options.”

Caldwell said the first week of the preschool has gone well. Long-time elementary school teacher Julie Grantham is leading the class with the assistance of Christina Hernandez.

“It has been a really great week,” Grantham said. “This is a great way to get the children introduced and ready for school. I’m introducing them to stuff they used to do in kindergarten.”

Caldwell believes the 4-year-olds in the program will have an advantage when they reach kindergarten of already being prepared to be in school.

According to WEMS Principal Carissa Morrison, the preschool is meant to be a gentle introduction to the school system but has pre-kindergarten standards with a focus on social skills and academics.

“This program is completely focused on kindergarten readiness,” Caldwell said. “The children learn how to follow instruction, but also spend time singing, creating art and doing hands-on activities.”

Grantham said her main instruction the first week was reading a book together in the classroom.

Caldwell said the program signup was first come, first serve based on income guidelines. She said the first 20 children who qualified were added to the preschool. She has another 20 that are on a wait-list.

“If anybody moves out of the class, I will use the wait-list to fill the position,” she said.

The program is funded by an Arizona Department of Education Preschool Development Grant for the 2017-18 school year.

“It’s a one-year grant that I’m hoping will renew next year,” Caldwell said.

Students whose family income is more than 100 percent of the federal poverty guidelines have no public preschool opportunities within the Williams community unless they qualify for special education services and attend the special needs preschool offered by Williams Unified School District (WUSD).

The $100,000 grant is paying for startup costs as well as program guidance and support that serves low-income and moderate-income children.

The grant initially targeted schools where 80 percent or more of the students qualified for free and reduced lunch (based on income level). Morrison said that requirement recently changed to include schools with 60 percent or more of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch.

She said the Williams Unified School District has approximately 70 percent of the students qualifying for free and reduced lunch.

Caldwell said the school would like to extend the program to families at all income levels, but the grant has income limits.

Caldwell is hopeful the grant will be renewed next year. She said the 40 children who signed up for the program demonstrate a need in Williams.

“It’s a competitive grant, but the good news is I have heard that funding for it is available next year,” she said.

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Teacher Christina Hernandez watches the students during a preschool break.

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A girl sits in the grass during recess at the Williams Elementary-Middle School preschool.

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Preschoolers dig a hole during their break.

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