PreKindergarten teachers Betsy Platt and Hilary Fabre have joyfully embraced the world of the School’s youngest learners throughout their careers at Park. The past few years have been a particularly exciting time for the PreK program, with the School’s 2017 Strategic Plan providing the opportunity to examine the early childhood experience at Park, followed by classroom renovations in Summer 2018 to ensure that the beautiful early childhood classrooms are well-suited – and well-sized – for Park’s youngest learners.
Following several years of exploration, research, and planning, Park is excited to transition to a full-day PreK program for the first time. Beginning in the 2020-21 school year., the PreK school day – which currently ends at 12 p.m. – will end at 3 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. The addition of afternoon hours will allow students to delve deeper into subject matter, and will provide the space and time in Park’s PreK program for an even more student-centered experience. Suzanne Bouchard writes in The Most Important Year: Pre-Kindergarten and the Future of Our Children, “Real engagement means students being interested and invested in what they are learning. When children are engaged, they learn material more deeply, apply it to their lives, and seek out more knowledge.” Through the addition of afternoon hours in PreK, students will have more time to engage with classmates and teachers, and to apply what they learn in new ways.
By lengthening their daily schedules, Park is slowing down the day for our youngest students, ensuring that crucial transitions happen at the right pace and set up the four-year-olds for success. Erika Christakis, in The Importance of Being Little: What Preschools Really Need from Grownups, explains that “With a less pressured schedule, the teacher [is] able to be more responsive to children in her care, allowing more time for ‘child-initiated learning activities’ and ‘stimulating interactions with teachers.’” With additional time in the school day, PreK students will be better able to enjoy the benefits of Park’s play-based PreK curriculum, and to be even more engaged in their learning. The PreK team is excited about all of the ways that the curriculum can be extended and come alive through this additional time. Students will have more time to own, and share, their work. For example, as they work collaboratively on their building for the city, students will have more time to plan, to add details, to make signs and to write about their creations. Units that had before required several weeks to complete will be able to be accomplished in a more compact span of days, allowing teachers to make the most of students’ excitement each time they begin a new unit.
In addition to allowing students this time and freedom, the transition to a full day also provides the opportunity for enhancements to the curriculum. To imagine and plan for the expansion of next year’s curriculum, Science Teacher Beth Perry has been working with the PreK team this year. Science, which is currently taught by PreK classroom teachers, will be taught next year by Beth. Because she teaches Kindergarten and Grade 1 science as well, Beth will bring a unique and critical perspective in preparing Park’s youngest learners for the science curriculum that they will encounter in their ten years at the School.
The years of planning for this transition, and all of the conversations that have happened to support it, have fostered important relationships between thought partners in the School, helping to ensure that Park can provide its students with the best possible education. Betsy, Hilary, Kimberly, and PreK Associates Taylor Holland and Elizabeth Amell, in addition to working closely with Beth, partnered last year with Pamela Penna, Director of Apprentices and former Director of Curriculum & Instruction, to envision how the enhancements to the full-day PreK program will fit into the broader Park educational model. For many Park students, PreK is the first of ten years that they will spend at The Park School. Each student begins to paint their own Park Portrait in PreK, and the School is fortunate to have the talented PreK team helping our youngest learners to develop the skills and habits that will serve as a strong foundation as they grow up at Park.