News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, August 28, 2014
BHCS pre-K teachers prepare for program’s first students
“20 mailboxes, 20 hooks, 20 cubbies”

BHCS gets ready for pre-K

New pre-K teacher Jessica Hutchins-Conrad, left, and ed. tech. Meredith Townsend put the finishing touches on their new classroom. This is the inaugural year for the pre-K program at the school.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

It’s eight days before the first day of school, and teachers everywhere ready their classrooms for a new year and a new clutch of students, choosing what to keep, what to store, what new supplies are still needed. But for Jessica Hutchins-Conrad and Meredith Townsend, teacher and ed. tech. for the new pre-K program at Blue Hill Consolidated School, the slate was blank from the start.

Armed with years of experience in early education, Hutchins-Conrad and Townsend have filled the pre-K classroom with bright colors, posters and books and installed “20 mailboxes, 20 hooks, 20 cubbies,” Hutchins-Conrad said, in a recent interview.

She has designed a school day that begins with breakfast in the classroom followed by a morning of learning activities using the “Creative Curriculum,” designed for preschool learning and chosen with input from Principal Della Martin and school board member Janis Snow.

The preschoolers will learn letter and number identification at different learning stations, have music lessons three times a week and visit the library once weekly, where they can check out a book that stays in the classroom.

But the most important goal in preschool is learning how to socialize, Hutchins-Conrad said.

“This is a year for them to grow, to explore, to get used to the way life is going to be for years down the road. Our goal is to get them socialized, ready for kindergarten,” she added.

Lunch begins at 10:50 a.m., eaten in the cafeteria with the kindergarteners and first-graders, followed by recess. The K-2 playground will belong to the preschoolers initially, and then the next two grades will join.

“The first graders will be able to model [behavior] for them,” said Hutchins-Conrad.

The morning ends at 11:40, when those enrolled for a half day will be picked up. Of the 18 children registered for pre-K, Hutchins-Conrad said “two or three” are attending half-days and one is enrolled for a three-day week. Parents have the option to change their child’s day as the year progresses.

“The afternoons are going to be much more relaxed,” Hutchins-Conrad said, with a rest time where children are not required to nap but will “lie quietly, sit quietly, look at a book. I have a feeling those first couple of weeks we’ll have some nappers.”

At 1 p.m., free play, painting and art and a snack will fill up the day until 2:40 p.m. when the preschoolers will board the bus with the rest of the BHCS students or be picked up by parents.

“I’m very excited to work with all the kids,” said Townsend, “to see them come together and teach them skills. By the time they hit kindergarten, they’ll be running.”

Townsend has five years’ experience working with special needs children in a residential setting in Massachusetts and has substituted the past year at BHCS, mostly in kindergarten, first and second grades.

Hutchins-Conrad, who has received a conditional certification from the state to teach pre-K, comes with five years of experience at Ellsworth Head Start program. For the past six years, she has worked at BHCS as a one-on-one aide in the kindergarten through second grades, a fifth grade classroom aide and, most recently, as a Response to Intervention teacher and ed. tech. for all the grades.

Many of the incoming preschoolers visited the classroom with their parents in two separate groups on August 20, which gave Hutchins-Conrad and Townsend an idea of how the space will feel once it’s filled with bodies.

The state requires a specific square footage per pre-K student, and the pre-K room “is big enough for 20 kids,” said Hutchins-Conrad.

Pre-K is an option, not a requirement, but Hutchins-Conrad and Townsend said the difference is notable in the kindergarten classrooms they’ve worked in between the students who have a year of school behind them and those who do not.

“I’ve seen so many kids walk in with no school experience,” Hutchins-Conrad said. “Socially, they [may] be just not ready.”

Parents may register children up to the day school starts, on September 2, and throughout the year.