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Pelham to open first preschool this fall

PELHAM — When Pelham Elementary School Principal Lisa Desjarlais’ grandson reached school age, she advocated for him to attend preschool.

“That’s where the achievement gap begins,” Desjarlais said, “when some students have these opportunities and others don’t.” This is why Desjarlais decided to push Pelham to join the other towns in the Amherst Regional School District to establish a preschool. The School Committee voted last year to establish the program for the 2013-2014 school year and allocated $15,000 in start-up costs last fall. It will be open to both Pelham and nonresidents.

“I think it’s absolutely a step in the right direction for Pelham,” said School Committee Chairwoman Debbie Gould. “If we can provide a really high quality preschool program the way we provide high quality elementary, it will be that much more to equip our students and help build a solid foundation for their learning.” In the past, families who sought prekindergarten education opportunities have had to send their children to preschools in neighboring towns in the district. Desjarlais noted that state law requires that educational services be provided for children identified to have special needs beginning at age 3. These children have had to attend preschool at the Early Education Center at Crocker Farm School, an integrated public preschool in Amherst.

Desjarlais said starting and continuing school right in Pelham would create less of a transition for young students.

“Transitions are hard for kids at that age. They really get used to faces, routines and friends,” she said.

A teacher has been hired — Nettie Harrington-Pangallo — and Desjarlais will be hiring a paraprofessional for the preschool class, which she expects to consist of around 15 students. Of the 15 applications received so far, nine are from Pelham families.

The preschool classroom will be housed in the elementary school building, in a former first-grade classroom next to the entrance of the school, a convenient location, Desjarlais pointed out, for dropping off and picking up students.

The tuition will be $6.25 per hour, though “in an ideal world,” Desjarlais said, she “wouldn’t charge anything.” On March 7, the school committee approved the creation of a revolving fund for the preschool in the amount of no more than $91,000, which will be supported solely by the school’s tuition until grant funding can be obtained.

The program is set to run from approximately 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays. Desjarlais said she hopes to hold an open house in mid-June.

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