City starting bilingual preschool

Pupils will help each other learn

QUINCY — Expanding its commitment to early childhood education, the school department is creating a novel bilingual preschool program for 4-year-olds in the Wollaston School district.

The pilot program will serve 12 children for whom English is a second language and six who are fluent in English. To be eligible, the children must be from low-income families with at least one working parent.

Participants will be chosen in the coming week and the program should be running by March 11, school officials said yesterday.

“We’re real excited to be able to offer children this opportunity,” said Elizabeth Bostrum, principal of the Wollaston School, where the program will be housed. “What we are doing is preparing these children for school by giving them a chance to start a little earlier.”

The preschool will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., an hour later than dismissal time for Wollaston pupils in kindergarten through Grade 5.

Children will spend three hours each day with teachers in a classroom setting. The remainder of the day will be structured like traditional day care, including outdoor recreation and playtime.

Bostrum said the preschool’s teaching focus will be language-based, with an emphasis on helping the minority children attain a better command of English before entering kindergarten.

She said she expects the majority of the non-English-speaking pupils to be Asian. Of the Wollaston School’s 272 students, 27 percent are Asian, mainly of Chinese descent.

Bostrum said the program’s six preschoolers already fluent in English will serve as language role models for the others. Verbal interaction will be a main component of the program, she said.

“Everybody benefits,” the principal said. “This preschool experience will be meaningful for all of the children, regardless of whether they’re fluent in English.”

The $ 105,629 allocated for the preschool program is one piece of a $ 571,428 grant from the state Department of Education to expand early childhood education opportunities for Quincy’s low-income children from working families.

Quincy Community Action Programs-Head Start is the agency administering the 18-month grant.

“We’re excited because this process was extremely competitive across the state,” said Lynne Celander, program coordinator for

Quincy Community Action’s Head Start. “And we got 90 percent of the funding we asked for.”

Among other things, the money also will enable participating preschools to serve 50 additional children and extend the school year or hours of service for the 37 children already enrolled.

For example, Head Start will be able to serve five more children in full-day preschool for 52 weeks. Currently, the children can attend preschool for only 39 weeks.

Another provider in the program, South Shore Day Care Services, will be able to serve seven additional children and Djerf Christian Preschool will take 14 more and extend its day by two hours.

In addition to funding slots for more pupils, the grant will be used to buy computers and other equipment, and establish a “mini-grant” program for private preschools to buy equipment.

Celander said Head Start will also seek more private preschools to join the approved network of providers for an innovative scholarship program aimed at 18 children from low-income, working families.

Participating preschools will be placed on a list that parents will use to decide where to send their children.

Celander praised the scope of the grant, which will also enable her agency to “purchase” two courses in early childhood education from Wheelock College and Quincy College. The courses will be then be awarded to someone in the city.

“The good thing about this grant is that it’s being spread out citywide,” Celander said. She said the grant may be renewable after the 18 months are up.

At Wollaston, the grant will pay to hire a full-time teacher, three aides and a half-time social worker. Two of the aides and the social worker will be bilingual or multilingual.

Wollaston joins Snug Harbor and Point Webster schools and the Amelio Della Chiesa Early Childhood Center in having a preschool program. School officials eventually hope to be able to offer schooling for all 4-year-olds in the city.

The Wollaston class will be housed in a kindergarten room left empty by the exodus of pupils to Beechwood Knoll Elementary School in the fall. Beechwood drew pupils for its reopening from the Wollaston, Parker and Montclair schools, easing a growing overcrowding problem.

Parents can learn more about Wollaston’s bilingual preschool program Thursday. School officials will meet with parents, answer questions and help to determine eligibility during two sessions at the school: from 9 a.m. to noon and 5 to 8 p.m.

If more than 18 eligible families apply for slots, children will be chosen by lottery.

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