Selectmen Approve Early Childhood Programs For Elementary Schools

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Education , Chatham Elementary School , Harwich Elementary School

Chatham Elementary School. A state grant will pay for new magnetic key card locks on the door which officials say will increase school security. FILE PHOTO

Already endorsed by the Monomoy Regional School Committee, a plan to allow Head Start and the YMCA of Cape Cod to operate early childhood programs at Chatham and Harwich elementary schools has passed muster with selectmen in both towns.

Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter said the lease of the classroom spaces must be finalized by the state education commissioner, but the new programs are expected to begin in September or October.

Using two empty classrooms at Harwich Elementary, YMCA of Cape Cod will be operating an infant/toddler class and a preschool class, running from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. year-round. Based in West Barnstable, the nonprofit operates similar programs around Cape Cod, including ones at Stony Brook Elementary in Brewster and Cape Tech in Harwich. Pricing for the new Harwich program will be the same as the YMCA's other early childhood programs, and they accept state-issued childcare vouchers for families with financial needs.

The YMCA charges for its programs, but provides scholarships for families with financial need. They pledge not to turn away any children because of an inability to pay. People with interest in the program are asked to contact Stacie Peugh at 774-251-5101.

At Chatham Elementary, Colorado-based Community Development Institute (CDI) will be operating a new preschool program under the federal Head Start program. Families who meet income qualifications are eligible for free full-day preschool with free transportation and a variety of other services that include nutrition, medical, dental and mental health and family education services.

Under federal guidelines, CDI took over the management of Head Start on Cape Cod after federal regulators raised concerns about the previous grantee, Cape Cod Child Development. CDI expects to operate Head Start locally for at least the next year. In the meantime, it is recruiting local staff and building a program that will eventually be taken over by a new organization. To apply for the Head Start program in Chatham, families should call 508-355-3136 immediately.

The school district’s strategic plan calls on steps to improve student achievement by working with partner agencies that provide early childhood education programs, Carpenter told Chatham selectmen Monday. The need for infant, toddler and preschool options is reinforced by the results of a survey the district conducted this spring. One question asked if respondents thought there were enough options for infant and toddler care.

“Eighty-four percent of the families said no,” he said. Of the 258 local families that responded to the survey, 58 percent said they feel there are not enough preschool options available in the area.

The school system already offers half-day preschool as required by law, “but that’s a half-day program and it runs on the school year model,” he said. In the summer, when working parents are “most employable,” the program is unavailable, Carpenter said.

The survey revealed that many local parents are financially stretched, and receive Food Stamps or other assistance.

“Roughly one in five were getting some sort of federal assistance,” the superintendent said. About 40 percent of children at Chatham Elementary qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches, and the number is even higher at Harwich Elementary, he added. While many local children would likely take part in early childhood programs, “their families can’t afford it,” he said. Studies show that youngsters who take part in early childhood education programs have better school achievement and are more likely to hold a higher-paying job as adults.

The YMCA will be leasing two rooms at Harwich Elementary, one for the infant and toddler program and the other for preschool. The lease is for three years with two subsequent one-year options to renew, and the YMCA will pay the district $15,000 a year plus an annual fee of $2,400 for custodial service and supplies. The district is spending around $30,000 to install bathrooms in the classrooms, Carpenter said.

The Head Start provider is leasing a single room at Chatham Elementary for $7,500 a year, plus $2,100 a year in custodial fees. The lease is for a single year, with a possible one-year extension.

Both programs are open to children from any town.

“The timing for this kind of proposal couldn’t be better,” Chatham Selectman Jeffrey Dykens said. The town is working with an ad-hoc group called Chatham 365 to identify ways to support year-round families, and the need for affordable child care has been discussed at length in the past.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Chatham Selectman Cory Metters added.

The Harwich board also voted unanimously Monday evening to approve the leases.

“Inarguably this is needed,” Selectman Donald Howell said.

William F. Galvin contributed to this story.