Educators gear up for universal pre-K


Mildred Montasano’s class of 20 four year olds stands poised at the end of Kingsbridge Heights Community Center’s (KHCC) gym, ready for a round of red light-green light. “Are you guys ready?” she asks.

After waiting a moment to build anticipation among her young charges, Ms. Montasano shouts “red light!” prompting several children to run, who then laugh and stop running soon after, realizing it wasn’t a green light.

The children playing in the gym are part of a small group whose parents were able to attain a spot in the center’s universal pre-K (UPK) program. The program at KHCC is a half-day program.

“The key word is that it should be universal - eligibility for all,” said Yenny Toone, 38, KHCC Assistant Executive Director for Early Childhood Programs. “Right now I know that it’s not. Everybody does not have access to it.”

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his most comprehensive UPK plan to date, promising 53,604 new full-day spots in September 2014, a significant increase from the current 19,483 full-day spots around the city at public school and community based organization (CBO) sites.

Mr. de Blasio’s plan would require 2,000 additional UPK classrooms and lead UPK teachers.

While the DOE has identified 4,000 potential classrooms for the new programs, many educators in the Riverdale, Kingsbridge and Marble Hill areas are still waiting for answers about funding and potential locations.

“We’re keeping our fingers on the pulse to see what’s going on and we’re keeping ourselves prepared to respond if called upon by the DOE,” said Dan Eudene, executive director at Riverdale Neighborhood House (RNH), which currently has two half-day UPK programs as well as a tuition-funded, UPK extended learning class.

Ms. Toone hopes to expand KHCC’s program to two full-day classes next fall. Currently, she has a wait list of over 200 children for enrollment in the 2014 fall program. While her site has applied for funding through the DOE to expand their program, Ms. Toone says their eligibility will not be determined until the spring.

The DOE did not allocate funding for new full-day UPK spots in the northwest Bronx area last year due to the city’s policy to give priority to low-income neighborhoods.

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