NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education’s three early childhood education programs now have a home under one umbrella.
The Early Childhood Center at Central Avenue serves as the home for the borough’s special education preschool, the School Readiness preschool program and the Head Start preschool program.
The three programs have called the former Central Avenue Elementary School home for four years, but they were housed in separate areas of the building.
Now, under the guidance of Early Childhood Education Coordinator Giocomina “Jackie” Bacon, who was hired in May to oversee the center, the students are all learning together. There are about 170 students at the center.
“Three groups, one program,” Bacon said during a ribbon cutting to celebrate the new look of the program on Sept. 22. “It’s a new beginning.”
Fatima Garcia, who has worked with Head Start for 20 years and is the school’s literacy coordinator and translator, the programs feel more connected now.
“When we are more connected the families benefit more,” Garcia said. “We see them every day because they are coming to pick up their kids. We help them if they need outside agency referrals. We are there for them in so many different ways. So the fact that we are all more connected helps us better serve the families.”
Faith Buckley, who has worked with Head Start for 19 years and currently serves as the program manager, echoed Garcia’s comments.
“As a work team we are all out here greeting the families, welcoming them to the program. When they come pick up their children we are doing the same thing. So we are really getting to know the families and the families are getting to know us,” Buckley said.
Prior to the combination of the programs, students in Head Start, which is a federally-funded program for income eligible families, were in different classes than their peers in School Readiness, which receives state funding and is for children in higher income brackets. Children whose families pay the full amount are also in the School Readiness program. Students in special education were also taught in separate classrooms.
Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said combining the programs means no student is left out.
“It’s super important that, when we service kids in our schools, they are all students of one school, not identified by the label, who pays for their slot, or their disability. It is important to us to make sure this is one school that services students regardless of the funds or labels,” Locke said.
Bringing the students together isn’t the only change that took place at the school. Over the summer the Board of Education’s custodial staff made upgrades at the school, including painting, installing new signs and updating the gymnasium. The school also created a parents’ center.
According to Locke, the total cost of the upgrades was less than $20,000.
“They did an outstanding job,” Bacon said. “The kids are so excited. They come in and it is so shiny,” Bacon said.
Garcia said the changes at the school have helped boost the morale of students as well as everyone working there.
“I love my job. I’ve been here 20 years. But the pride that Jackie has in this school has completely trickled down to us. We are walking down the halls thinking, ‘This is our school, look how good it looks, look at what we do for families. Look how important early childhood education is to the world,’” Garcia said.