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Universal Pre K is Available for Free

UPK is a state-funded program that many local parents may not be aware of.

Regardless of being a mom or dad who works outside the home, or a parent who stays home with your children, you will eventually face the task of signing your child up for school.  Whether your decision is based on your need to work; your feeling that your child needs socialization; or the reality that your child is not cooperating enough to learn his shapes, colors, letters and numbers from mom or dad, the time will come. 

As a working mom, whose children have attended day care and nursery school since they were eight months old, I can tell you that it has been expensive, and in order to feel at ease, you have to feel confident in your choice of school.  At some point you will have to do your research in order to ease your mind and the inevitable separation anxiety that you and/or your child may feel.  But, I can tell you that  there is a wonderful program available that can help alleviate some financial burden — The Universal Pre-K Program.

If you are unaware of its existence, each spring, school districts, who have been approved by New York State, can accept applications from those in the community whose children will be entering pre-k the following September.  School district population determines the number spaces available and a lottery is held once the state releases the grant allocations, which is usually in June.  This program is not based on financial need, but on a lottery system.

Families, who “win” the lottery, can send their child to a participating preschool five mornings each week, free of charge.  If families, who have been granted UPK, want to keep their child at school all day, they have the option to pay for additional sessions.  If a UPK child is not attending regularly, they may be removed from the program. 

School districts choose what local preschools are eligible to participate. Section 151-1.6 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education explicitly describes the process for issuing a request for proposal, as well as the criteria for selecting which eligible agencies will receive grant funds to provide the UPK program. 

School districts are additionally required to assess their pre-k students as if they were students in the district’s classrooms, including undergoing a health and academic screening upon entering the program. 

Michael Radday, Assistant Superintendent of the Westhampton Beach School District said, “The Universal Pre-K grant provides an excellent opportunity for the Westhampton Beach School District to collaborate with our local pre-schools to deliver pre-kindergarten instruction to students in the community.  We know that pre-kindergarten experiences can benefit students in many areas of school readiness and social-emotional development, and we’re pleased that our students have access to these programs through the UPK grant.”

Dawn Orban, director of the Bright Beginnings Preschool in West Hampton Beach agrees: “I think the best aspect of the UPK program, aside from helping our existing families, is, we do enroll children in our school who may not have been able to attend pre-k. Also, by talking with the teachers in both Westhampton Beach and Remsenburg about their expectations for the children entering kindergarten, we can adapt our curriculum to help prepare the children for their elementary years”.

The Quogue School District and The Hampton Bays School District both have Pre-K Programs housed in their buildings. 

In Hampton Bays, there is room for 18 students in an a.m. program and another 18 students for the p.m. program.  There is a waiting list available if the number of students exceeds 36.    

In Remsemburg-Speonk, students can attend Bright Beginnings in Westhampton Beach and Westhampton Beach students have the choice of attending Bright Beginnings or Love of Learning in Quiogue. 

The East Quogue School District is in the process of applying for the grant and is hopeful to offer this program to the community for the 2011-2012 school year. 

Don’t miss your chance for your child to be chosen for this excellent program.  In addition to benefitting you financially, the UPK program may introduce you to the school that works best for your child.  Call your school district and inquire when and how to go about applying for the UPK Program. 

It should be noted that the UPK program could be significantly effected by possible  budget cuts and looming reductions in .  Be sure to be proactive and don't hesitate to fight for the educational funding that is essential to our schools and our children.

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