District welcomes state expansion funds, but need remains high
Youngsters continue to “creatively learn” in the Washington Township full-day preschool program, funded in September of 2021 with $1.1 million in aid from the state Department of Education.
In a six-week turnaround, the district began its first year of full-day preschool, and will start its third year this fall.
“It’s been fabulous,” Gretchen Gerber, the school district’s director of elementary education, said of the program.
With a projected enrollment of 236 to 285 students for 2023-’24, the need for a full-day preschool program remains. The district recently held a lottery for openings in the upcoming year.
For 3-year-olds, there are 72 spots open at the Grenloch Terrace Early Childhood Center and 13 at Learn With Me Daycare. For 4-year-olds, 32 spots are available at Grenloch and 13 at Learn With Me. There are also 25 children on the waitlist, according to school officials.
“This year, we are able to expand our seats by partnering with Learn with Me Daycare,” Gerber explained. “Students attending Grenloch Terrace or Learn With Me will be registered as Washington Township students and follow our curriculum.”
The district uses a creative curriculum, one of the five approved curricula in the state.
“Creative curriculum is a play-based program structured to meet the social-emotional-physical communication and cognitive needs of the students by teaching developmentally appropriate skill areas that are embedded throughout the day,” Gerber said.
The entire preschool program runs Monday through Friday, 8:45 am. to 2:55 p.m. – including a nap – and follows the district school calendar. As its third year approaches, Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration have continued to support universal access to high-quality, full-day preschool in New Jersey.
Since Murphy took office, preschool programs have been introduced to more than 160 school districts, opening seats for more than 12,000 additional children, according to a press release from the governor’s office. On Feb. 22, Murphy and state officials announced that $120 million would be allocated for preschool in 16 more districts.
The funding – made possible with an allocation of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money in 2023 – marks the first time preschool expansion grants will be available to Regular Operation Districts (RODs). The department of education will accept grant applications from RODs through May 31.
Eligible proposals will be prioritized by category in the following order: increasing available preschool seats by at least 10%, ranked by percentage of increased seats, enhancing preschool facilities by increasing the capacity of existing classrooms or by constructing and or rehabilitating restrooms, expanding preschool programs from half day to full day and expanding classroom capacity to house new preschool programs and guarantee additional seats.
Gerber said she welcomes the state grants for facility expansions and noted that space issues remain a challenge. For the long term, she pointed out, the goal is to continue expanding the district’s programming each year to ultimately offer preschool to at least 90% of 3- and 4-year-olds within five years.
“Our vision is to develop an inclusive preschool community where all students feel safe, respected, and encouraged to develop to their fullest potential, while learning in a stimulating and welcoming early childhood environment,” she said.