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Touch of class: District 20 Pre-K for All celebrates fifth anniversary

SOUTHERN BROOKLYN — It’s been five years since the first Pre-K for All program became available in New York, providing every four-year-old child in the city with the chance to get started on their education.

One of the first initiatives enacted by Mayor Bill de Blasio during his first term in office, since its inception, the program has continued to grow and expand within District 20, which oversees schools in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and portions of Sunset Park, Bensonhurst, Boro Park and Kensington.

Appointed by District 20’s Community Superintendent Karina Costantino, long-time educator Dianne Gounardes kicked off the program as the district’s director of early childhood education. Since a formal Pre-K program didn’t exist at the time, Gounardes undertook the challenge of opening doors to the district’s first free standing pre-k centers by September 2015.

Gounardes’ goal was to find a way to serve hundreds of families in multiple locations within the district. She carefully selected a team that included assistant principals, teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff. The goal was to have the children prepared for kindergarten by providing them with a strong foundation for their social and emotional growth.

Ultimately, New York City’s Pre-K for All initiative, the largest expansion of early childhood education in the country, became a national role model. And, District 20 operates the largest pre-k center program in the city, which has grown to a total of 11 centers over five years.

Presently, the increased investment in the centers shows a constant striving for progress. The program now includes STEAM (centering on science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics), a focus on the Reggio Emilia philosophy of teaching, dual-language classes in Mandarin and Spanish, self-contained special education classes and the availability of after-school hours. To date, close to 6,000 four-year-olds in the area have attended District 20 centers.

“It is hard to believe that we are celebrating our fifth year anniversary already. It seems like we were just opening our first few pre-k centers and welcoming our first group of children. Over the years, we have grown not only in enrollment numbers, but also in our ability to provide a solid foundation for our children beginning their educational journey with us,” said Gounardes.

“Our staff members are life-long learners committed to keeping themselves at the highest level of expertise in early childhood education. We take pride in our ability to nurture our youngest learners and help them become independent little people,” Gounardes added.

Costantino also reflected on the pre-k journey for families and educators in her district. “One of the reasons our district is successful is the coherence of instruction from our youngest students to our eighth grade,” said Costantino.

“By beginning district initiatives, such as inquiry teams and social emotional intelligence in pre-k, our youngest students come into kindergarten well-prepared to continue a successful educational experience. The coherence is further accomplished by the early childhood retreat, held in the spring with pre-k and kindergarten teachers in the district strengthening the bridge for successful strategies to be seamless.”

The pre-k application period began on February 5 and will continue until March 16. For more information and updates, parents may visit the District 20 Pre-K Centers website at www.District20Prek.org or contact Parent Coordinator Camille Loccisano at cloccisano@schools.nyc.gov.

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