More options for preschool are coming to the Coastside soon after Cabrillo Unified School District received nearly $1 million in the form of a grant from the state of California to centralize and expand its preschool program into one integrated center.
The new program, set to open in late 2021, will join three separate early learning classes already run by the district — its state preschool serving around 30 students, the summer Big Lift program, and its current special day class program now housed at El Granada Elementary School — all under one roof at Hatch Elementary School. Plus, it will add a fourth: a new program to offer immersion classes for English or Spanish language learners.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Leticia Bhatia said the integrated program has been a long time coming for the district. She hopes that, beginning next school year, 50 to 60 students all will be enrolled and learning together.
“It’s learning in the least restrictive environment,” said Rosalva Segura, CUSD’s Community Engagement Early Childhood and Special Programs supervisor. “Kids with different abilities to learn are learning with other students — those bilingual or monolingual, someone with an (Individualized Education Program) or speech impediment, all learning together.”
The nearly $1 million the district received to establish the integrated program is just its share of a grant that went to seven districts in the county. Over the next three years, the funds will go to merging existing preschool programs, funding staff, purchasing technology and creating an accessible outdoor play area at Hatch.
The new communal space is also made possible by the construction of a new kindergarten triplex at Hatch, which freed up six portable classrooms to house the new combined preschool program. The three new classrooms, completed mid-November, cost the district just under $14 million and utilize 9,200 square feet of both indoor and outdoor learning spaces for kindergarten classes.
At its December meeting, the CUSD board approved the purchase of the portable classrooms, which used to house the kindergarten classes, for just over $277,000. The cost to remove and return them would have cost an estimated $255,000. Those will be brought into compliance this summer to house the new unified preschool program.
Segura said every student enrolled in the program will get an individual learning plan, and a major feature of the program will be focused on outdoor learning. In addition to an accessible playground, Segura said the district will also look at using a curriculum that prioritizes social-emotional development and organic play among students.
She said lessons learned during the pandemic, like the importance of teaching self-awareness and community trust, will continue to be a central focus of the program. She said she is inspired by young kids’ and families’ adaptability to masks, outdoor learning and new technology this year.
“Having learning carry outdoors during playtime, that’s the beauty,” Segura said. “That’s when kids are more excited and focused, when they’re choosing what they’re going to do and who they’re going to do it with.”