By KAITLYN NAPLES
Tucked behind Bristol’s downtown area is a facility where 150 3- to 4-year-olds spend the year learning, playing and preparing for the next steps of their education.
Bristol Preschool Child Care Center, Inc., located on West Street, has been in existence for 42 years, and its executive director, Shirley Anderson, said she hears time and time again that “it is Bristol’s best kept secret.”
Bristol Preschool Child Care Center started out in 1971 with 30 children in its program. Now, the program can hold up to 152 students. However, Anderson said this year is the first one where the program was not completely full.
“I think it’s largely due to the economy,” Anderson said, adding that the preschool program currently has eight classrooms, between two sites, containing about 16 to 18 children in each. The other site is located on South Street.
Bristol Preschool Child Care Center is the equivalent of a “mini school,” Marilyn Lobaczewski, former executive director and current grants manager, said.
Lobaczewski was present during the center’s inception, and said it came as a result of a task force put together by former Mayor J. Harwood “Stretch” Norton, that was charged with the task of addressing needs in the community in regards to early childhood education for low income families who didn’t have the opportunity to send their children to private preschool facilities. Bristol Preschool became a non-profit establishment that receives funding from the state’s Department of Education and the United Way. It also is a School Readiness Program and is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC. Bristol Preschool recently found out they were featured in a handbook put out by the United States Department of Agriculture, which is a tool on how to provide best nutrition for children. Bristol Preschool’s practice of growing its own vegetables at the center was featured in the handbook. The children take part in the growing, watering, and, of course, consumption part, and are introduced to new and different foods they may not be getting at home.
At Bristol Preschool Child Care Center, students are given a full breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack during the full day of school. The program runs year-round, and covers an extensive curriculum to prepare them for their first day of kindergarten. The preschool uses the state’s “Preschool Frameworks” and “The Creative Curriculum for Preschool,” Program Manager Renee Dailey, said. Each teacher will cover one topic each week, and provide lessons that go off of three focal points. The state has 30 performance standards, and each teacher will choose three of those 30 each week to incorporate in their lessons.
For example, in one of the classrooms last week, that teacher’s topic was “snow.” She incorporated using complex sentences and vocabulary to describe ideas and experiences, engaged the students in scientific inquiry, and had the students form their own ideas.
Dailey’s son attends one of the classrooms for 4-year-olds, and said many times the teachers will be going over things that aren’t discussed at home. Her son brought up paleontology after school one day, and when she asked him what that meant he said “Mom, it’s when you dig up dinosaur bones.” Most 4-year-olds don’t hear the word ‘paleontology’ and are able to understand it.
Each classroom has interest areas, such as an art center, so students are able to participate in a variety of activities, and lessons are also planned around these centers. Students learn how to be independent at Bristol Preschool, where they are able to do small tasks, like pour their own milk out of a smaller container into a smaller cup, and materials at the centers are at their reach, so they are able to do things for themselves. Everything is labeled in the school so students are able to identify letters and words in preparation for reading. Dailey said a handful of students who graduated last year and went to kindergarten were already reading “sight books,” and were able to identify words.
“The requirements for kindergarten are changing constantly, and the state is always raising the bar,” Dailey said, requiring preschools, like Bristol Preschool Child Care Center, to enhance their lessons and activities to prepare each child for that next level of education. Dailey added that teachers will gear lessons to be able to cater to each child’s needs, and also challenge them.
At Bristol Preschool Child Care Center, Lobaczewski said the families matter as much as the children do.
“I believe, wholeheartedly, that we provide an exceptional quality environment for children and families,” Lobaczewski said.
The center holds monthly literacy events at Manross Library that range from a variety of topics. These nights bring children and families from the program, as well as members of the community, and engage everyone.
Anderson added that these literacy events are meant to encourage parents to help their child read, or read to them, at home.
“Preschool is important overall for the child’s social development,” such as learning how to play with one another, getting along, sharing, “the most basic and common practices we use as adults,” Anderson said.
Bristol Preschool Child Care Center runs on a sliding pay-scale that is based off of a family’s gross income, and ranges from $8 per week, to $145 per week. It offers a full-day, full-year preschool program for children. For more information on the program, curriculum, activites and more visit the center’s website at www.bristolpreschool.com or call (860) 314-0597. The center will be having an open house in February, and it is currently accepting enrollment for the fall. Also, the South Street facility currently is holding open enrollment.
Comments? Email knaples@BristolObserver. com