By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Olivia Westbrook jumped up and down in excitement when she arrived at Ivy Drive School last Thursday in a big red fire engine.
Dressed in a pink patterned dress and black Mary Jane flats, Olivia was ecstatic to ride in one of the Bristol Fire Department’s engines for her first day of kindergarten. Escorted by her mother, Olivia was selected for the First Day to Kindergarten Fire Truck Ride, an event that has occurred at the beginning of every school year for the past nine years now in Bristol. The Bristol School Readiness Council and the Bristol Early Childhood Alliance work together through the Transition to Kindergarten Committee on this event.
Surrounded by her parents, Tom and Michelle Westbrook, and her little sister, Olivia posed in front of the fire truck with Bristol firefighters and Ivy Drive School administration. The Bristol Fire Department greeted Olivia at her home before giving her a ride to school.
“The big ladder is so cool looking,” said Olivia, adding how she picked out a back-to-school outfit just as colorful as the fire truck.
The first day of school excitement also lingered among Olivia’s family.
“It’s a perfect way to enter kindergarten,” said Michelle, adding how she had tears in her eyes that morning.
School Readiness Grant Manager Mary-Alice Petrucelli-Timek said this year marked the first in which a student from Ivy Drive School was selected for the ride. The Fire Truck Ride is an incentive program to encourage parents to register their children for kindergarten before the last day of the previous school year. Olivia happened to be one of the early registered students, and was selected by chance.
“When children are registered by the end of the last school year…it not only assists the families…but it also assists the Board of Education because they can plan ahead how many kindergarten classes they’re going to need at what schools,” said Timek.
Timek said the School Readiness Council works hand-in-hand with BECA,
as they both sharing committees.
“It’s a greater collaboration,” said Timek.
The School Readiness Council’s mission is to “mobilize as a community to develop and oversee new programs and embellish existing programs in order to provide all preschool children and their families, regardless of income and special needs, the necessary requirements and resources that will allow for successful growth, education and emotional development,” according to the Bristol Public Schools website.
Timek said School Readiness not only has made an impact on children’s transition to kindergarten, but also on children’s health.
“Now every child entering kindergarten and their families…get the same information. It’s more coordinated. We have businesses that assist us in reminding parents to register for kindergarten by the electronic signs that flash throughout the community,” said Timek. “The impact has been immense in early childhood. It’s a very strong collaboration, and something we’re very proud of.”
The annual Fire Truck Ride is not the only way in which the fire department gives back to students. When parents register their children for kindergarten, they receive a free ticket to tour the Hap Barnes Fire Safety House, a 21-foot trailer equipped with a group classroom, kitchen, living room, bedroom and control room to help teach children basic fire safety skills.
Deputy Chief John Ziogas of the Bristol Fire Department said every child who is chosen to ride in the fire truck is just as excited as the one from the year before.
“We love to contribute to the city and young kids on the first day of school,” said Ziogas. “She [Olivia] was so excited.”