Officials tour Forest Hills pre-K ahead of application deadline
by Benjamin Fang
Feb 16, 2016 | 12360 views | 0 0 comments | 170 170 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Deputy Mayor Richard Buery plays with building blocks with pre-kindergarten students at P.S. 144.
Deputy Mayor Richard Buery plays with building blocks with pre-kindergarten students at P.S. 144.
Borough President Melinda Katz, center, is an alumna of P.S. 144 in Forest Hills.
Borough President Melinda Katz, center, is an alumna of P.S. 144 in Forest Hills.
Deputy Mayor Buery has his heartbeat checked by pre-k students.
Deputy Mayor Buery has his heartbeat checked by pre-k students.
Continuing his pre-kindergarten tour around the city, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery joined Borough President Melinda Katz and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi on a visit P.S. 144 in Forest Hills Friday morning.

Accompanied by Principal Reva Gluck-Schneider, the officials discussed the challenges the school has faced and the three pre-K classrooms for up to 54 students. The deadline to enroll students into a pre-kindergarten class for the following school year, which starts in September, is March 4.

Katz and Hevesi know the school quite well; they both graduated from the elementary school years ago. They supported the school while it was handling a large growth in the number of students but not in space, according to Gluck-Schneider.

“From 2010, we were facing not being able to keep all of our kindergarteners, and they were actually given assignments elsewhere,” she said. “It was looking like they were telling us to close down two of the pre-K’s. What that means for a community like this that’s had pre-K for well over 10 years is awful.

“It meant the fabric of our community, which starts with our littlest babies and goes up all the way to fifth grade, was definitely in huge jeopardy,” Gluck-Schneider added.

But thanks to the efforts of parents and support from elected officials, P.S. 144 is now in the process of expanding its building to physically fit more classrooms. After touring three pre-kindergarten classes, the officials also stopped by two fifth grade classes held in a trailer across the lot.

Gluck-Schneider said parents really “went to battle” to keep the kindergarten and pre-kindergarten classes intact at the school. She said they started petitions and had a strong online presence as a Facebook page. Gluck-Schneider invited a parent leader who was active in the push to expand the school to the meeting with Buery, Katz and Hevesi.

“I can’t meet with the deputy [mayor] who saved pre-K and not have him know that it was parents that were so integrally involved in making this happen,” she said. “That’s the thing about 144, we have so much wonderful parent involvement.”

Katz also praised the parents for their involvement, and gave credit to the school’s administration.

“They have an extremely active parent's association and principal and administration that has advocated with the Department of Education relentlessly,” Katz said. “Part of the good thing about this is that the numbers already showed, before we started advocating, that the increase of children in this community required an extension or extra seats.”

Buery, who led the city’s charge to implement universal pre-kindergarten, said it’s rewarding to see the programs that have been created across the city. He emphasized the importance of visiting the sites to listen to educators and parents.

“It’s so important to actually go out and talk to principals and talk to teachers and kids and parents because sometimes there’s feedback and information you can’t get unless you’re talking to people face to face,” he said.

He added that every program is different, so they face different challenges based on their neighborhoods, school cultures, languages, size and other factors.

“I love to see the different ways that communities and providers can come together and promote strong standards and great environments for kids, but do it in a way that makes sense,” Buery said.

As the enrollment deadline approaches, Buery encouraged parents to research which pre-kindergarten program best fits their needs.

“Don’t assume that the program you happen to know is the only program or the best program, we have hundreds of programs around the city,” he said. “Even if your first choice is in high demand and maybe a long shot, that does not mean there’s not another good program that you can get to that’s accessible.”

He said parents often feel intimidated by the idea of having their four-year-old child attend school, but he added that the kids are having fun while learning, and there’s no better gift than “setting them up for life.”

“When they go to kindergarten, they are so much more prepared, and not so much academically, but socially and emotionally and developmentally,” Buery said. “Those kids are painting, they’re exploring, they’re playing with bunnies, and they’re learning their colors and their numbers and literacy skills, too.”

Gluck-Schneider said the students are learning to work together, which is a sophisticated thing to do at their age.

“I absolutely believe that in terms of the support that pre-K does socially and emotionally as well as intellectually, when they come into kindergarten here, I see that they’re ready,” she said. “Just anecdotally, you can see the difference.”
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