Preschool to serve a community need

The new preschool building is close to completion. Enlargephoto

Jeanne Archambeault/Times

The new preschool building is close to completion.

"It's going to be great for this community," said Mancos school superintendent Brian Hanson.

Hanson is talking about the Early Learning Center that is currently being built on Walnut Street in Mancos, just east of the already existing grade school. The new preschool, which will be open on Monday, Jan. 14, will have room for 47 kids, according to Pearlie Mae Chadwick, the new director of the preschool. Chadwick, who comes to Mancos from Cortez and who has spent many years working with small children, qualified that number; "We have 47 SEATS," she said. "That might mean part of them are half-day kids and some are full-time kids."

Right now, though, there are the 16 kids who are coming over from the Head Start classroom on Grand Ave. and who will continue to be together in one classroom. (In subsequent years, the low-income and tuition kids will be mixed.) "We didn't want to separate them in the middle of the school year," said Chadwick. Then, there are eight more kids who are already enrolled who will be in another classroom. "We are required by the state to have an 8 to 1 ratio of teachers to kids," said Chadwick.

That leaves room for 23 more kids to enroll. Chadwick said there is no deadline to enroll; they'll take kids even after the new building opens. The parents, however, have to fill out an application in order to enroll.

The preschool is funded by Head Start, a Federal program, Colorado Preschool Program (CPP), which is a program funded by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), and by tuition. Those who may get help for their tuition can be part of the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP).

Chadwick has been in Cortez since 1987 and has used the same preschool curriculum for 12 years. "There are two kinds," she said. One addresses the academic portion and the other addresses the social and emotional aspect of small children.

"It's a really good curriculum," she said. "It goes right along with the school curriculum and they will be able to transition right into kindergarten." She likes to get parents involved early as volunteers right along with their kids.

"There are a lot of reasons we did this," said Hanson. "There's always been a need in our community for a preschool. Head Start did a great job, but their space was limited and they could only have 15 kids at their maximum. The building is owned by the State Grange, and they wanted to get out of being a landlord. There was no other facility in Mancos.

So, we had some conversations with the Head Start in Durango about building a preschool, so it was just a matter of finding the funding and making the commitment."

The school will now be PreK through 12 and the transition will be seamless, he said. "When kids come into kindergarten they're one step closer to being where they need to be," Hanson said.

He was quick to praise the school board members, both the ones that are on it now, and the ones that were on it when this process started. "The board needs to be commended for stepping forward," he said. "It took a lot of courage to commit to this."

They started this process three years ago by talking about it and doing some research. Then, a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) became available two years ago and the town supported it. "So we went for it," said Hanson.

The preschool will have one teacher and an assistant teacher for each classroom. Right now, Chadwick will teach in one of the rooms, until they get more kids and the building is filled to its maximum. They still need one more assistant teacher, she said. They also have an administrative assistant to manage the paper work and greet the kids and parents as they enter the building.

In the new preschool building, there is a coded access that only the parents will know. That way, there is as much security for the children as possible. In addition to the three large classrooms, there is an office for the adminstrative assistant, a place for first aid, a washer and dryer and lots of low windows for the small children to see outside.

The long term vision for the preschool, according to both Chadwick and Hanson, is to eventually have after school programs, parenting programs, and to partner with higher education facilities. This will also give the high school kids a chance to incorporate child care into their curriculum and work with them on a regular basis.

"There is data to show that kids who have come out of preschool are ahead academically," said Chadwick. "Much more so than those who aren't in preschool."

The tuition for the new preschool is $25 per day for a whole day and $19 per day for a 1/2 day. They will provide breakfast, lunch and a snack for the all-day kids. They will use the playground that is currently being used for kindergarten, but will eventually build one on the southeast corner of the new building. After the building is completed, the outside work - the landscaping and other outside stuff - will need to be done by volunteers. Doing that work wasn't in the original budget for the preschool building, Hanson said.

"People have been very supportive of this process," said Hanson. "A preschool is an attraction for people to move here, and it serves a need."

There will be an open house ceremony before it opens for everyone who has been involved and the parents, said Hanson. "We'll make sure everyone gets notified."

Chadwick is excited about her position as director of the new preschool. She loves to work with small children and has a real heart for them. It doesn't matter to her what they're background is or what their circumstances are. "They're just kids," Chadwick said, smiling.

If you have small children that you would like to enroll, call the Mancos School District Central Office at 970-533-7748.