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Bay Ridge parent leads charge for half-day pre-k funding

The glass is only half-full when it comes to universal pre-k, according to one Bay Ridge parent who penned an online petition asking the mayor’s office to give half-day pre-k programs a fighting chance.

Andrea Stockton, a stay-at-home mom of three from Bay Ridge, argues that, while over 50,000 families have applied for free, universal full-day pre-k – a sign of the program’s success, according to the mayor’s office — none of those parents was even given the half-day option.

“Last year, when my oldest child was four, we found it really valuable to have a half-day pre-kindergarten experience,” Stockton said, stressing that, while she has nothing against the proven educational value of a full-day program, she thinks that, for her son in particular, jumping straight into a 31-hour school-week would have been “really tough for him emotionally.”

While her second son, now three, won’t be enrolling until next year, Stockton – a mother who favors the educational value of unstructured play outside of school and enjoys being the “primary influence in [her] pre-schooler’s world” – fears full-day might be his only option if her family doesn’t want to shell out $5,000 for a private program.

“A bunch of friends of mine are enrolling now and they started saying, ‘wait a minute, half-day is disappearing,” she said, noting that there is only one school left in Bay Ridge with a half-day contract – Tiny Tots Playhouse, a pre-school at 243 88th Street – and seats are filling fast. “From what I discerned, no schools have been given half-day.”

According to a city source, RFPs will be issued for half-day programs later this month.

“We’ve held that until later in the season because this is the first year we’re doing full enrollment,” said the source, stressing that existing programs will have to reapply for half-day (while new ones can also apply if they want) and seats will be awarded based on factors like program quality and neighborhood demand.

However, families citywide seem to be favoring full-day, according to the mayor’s office.

“Free, high-quality, full-day pre-k for every child is clearly the priority for this administration, and with more than 40,000 families having applied in just the past two weeks, that’s clearly the option most families are demanding,” said Deputy Mayor Richard Buery. “As we have already stated, we anticipate continuing a modest half-day program, but we urge all parents to first consider a strong full-day program as they look for the best option to meet their child’s needs.”

That figure, though, is skewed, according to Stockton.

“What we’d really love to see is a checkbox for both from the beginning,” she said, “because parents who wanted half-day are signing up for full-day because it’s the only thing they can find. They keep saying, ‘well, look how many people signed up’ but they only gave parents one option.”

Laurie Windsor, president of the Community Education Council for District 20, said that while the CEC hasn’t taken a formal stance on the issue, in her opinion, “one size does not fit all.”

“How are they going to know what families want if there’s only one option?” she asked. “You don’t think these families are rushing over to register, thinking full-day is their only choice?”

“We recognize that we are the minority when it comes to the city,” Stockton said, “but that doesn’t mean that we don’t exist.”

Signee Lisa Jones agreed.

“Putting the pressure on four-year-olds to be in school all day long is not right,” she wrote in hopes that, by the time her son is four, she will have the option to put him in a half-day program. “It should be the parent’s choice for a full-day or half-day program.”

The petition – now just under 250 signatures shy of its first thousand – is by no means a blow to those in favor of full-day, Stockton stressed.

Community Education Council for District 20“That’s not the fight we want to fight, half-day versus full-day,” she said. “We just want to be given the option.”

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