FALMOUTH — The youngest students at Falmouth Elementary School may not be quite ready for kindergarten, but they’ve quickly carved out their own space in the school community.
Those students – ages 18 months to 5 years – spend their days learning in brightly decorated classrooms in a quiet wing of the new school. Their walks through the school elicit giggling reactions from older students and their fourth-grade reading buddies are always eager for a visit.
The 10 students in the toddler room and 14 students in the preschool room are the children of Falmouth school employees. For the first time this year, employees can pay for their children to attend the fully-licensed, on-site program.
Superintendent of Schools Barbara Powers said the program – believed to be one of only two in the state – has been well-received by parents and others in the school community who enjoy having younger children on campus.
The program has an operating budget of $152,000, which is paid for entirely by parents of enrolled students and does not use taxpayer money. Parents pay $185 per week per child, Finance Director Dan O’Shea said.
“It’s truly like a cooperative,” Powers added.
Director Julia Chace said the program employs four full-time teachers – two in each classroom – and two part-time teachers. It runs from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each school day, which allows teachers time to attend after-school meetings and activities, she said.
“For teachers here it’s been a real added benefit,” she said.
Powers agreed, saying the program is one way the School Department can support teachers who balance their full-time jobs with their roles as full-time parents.
“With us all on one campus, this program has provided a significant opportunity helping support our young teachers with the logistics, costs and stress of locating affordable, quality child care,” she said.
John Carter, a fifth-grade teacher, enrolled his 3-year-old son, Knox, in the toddler program in September. He said his son loves attending school and recently told his parents that his teachers are his best friends.
Carter said he and other parents find it both reassuring and convenient to have their children in the same building, even if they rarely interact during the day.
“You can’t get much more convenient than being in the same building,” he said.
Carter said he also enjoys the sense of community that has developed among colleagues who see each other interacting with their families.
“It just brings a lot to the school,” he said. “I think it’s fantastic. I hope more schools do it.”
Susan Albertini, an elementary school guidance counselor, said she feels more comfortable knowing her child is nearby.
“As I’m driving to school every day, I love being able to look back and see my son smiling as he is anticipating a fun-filled day ahead of him,” Albertini said. “As he is smiling, so am I as I think about how grateful I am to have that extra time with him.”
Chace said having the program in the elementary school creates many opportunities for mingling among students of different ages. Every other Tuesday, preschool students pair up with their two fourth-grade “reading buddies,” and there are opportunities for high school students to volunteer in the classrooms.
Powers said she sees opportunities for the program to engage additional older students in the future. She would like to have the high school provide students the chance to study early childhood development while doing internships in the preschool program. She said the program could also be utilized by high school students who become parents, if that situation transpires.
Chace, whose daughter, Emily, attends the program, said she is excited to be part of a unique model that she would like to see expand to other schools.
“The opportunities are endless for enrichment for everybody involved,” she said.
Emily Chace, 2, climbs on the Falmouth Elementary School playground while attending the school district’s new toddler program. Her mother, Julia Chace, is director of the program that allows school employees to pay for their children to attend a toddler or preschool program at the school.