It is just another normal day for Chapel Hill resident Lakeshia Walker as she grasps her 4-year-old daughter’s hand, leading her to pre-kindergarten class.
Walker’s mind is at ease, as she said she is confident in the quality of the education her daughter is receiving.
“The teachers are great,” she said. “I can tell she learns a lot.”
Walker also said her daughter, who is starting her second year at Ephesus Elementary School, enjoys her time in school.
“She loves it. She (doesn’t) want to leave,” she said.
Amid smiles and screams, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools welcomed pre-kindergarten students for their first full day of school on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
Bill Frenzel, director of the Pre-K/Head Start program in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said Sept. 3 was the first day teachers had full classes, and students were in the classroom from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
He said extended care also started that day, meaning students had supervision as early as 7:30 a.m. and as late as 5:30 p.m.
On August 29 and 30, pre-K teachers only had about half of their students in the classroom at a time, and the school day was shortened by about an hour with no extended care offered, Frenzel said.
The Pre-K/Head Start program receives both local and federal funding and also offers care for special needs children. Eligibility is largely based on family income.
Frenzel said Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has 11 elementary schools, including a bilingual school, each of which is involved in the program based on availability of space.
He said the school system increased the program by a classroom size to accommodate the roughly 230 pre-K students enrolled this year, which is more than last year. Regular classrooms can have a maximum of 15 students, and special needs classrooms can have as many as eight.
Teachers play a large part in the quality of education students receive, Frenzel said.
“All of our teachers have pre-k licensure,” he said. “I think that level of knowledge makes a big difference in what happens in the classroom.”
Ephesus Elementary School principal Victoria Creamer said school staff works hard to acclimate pre-K students to their new environment.
She said the biggest challenges for students lie in following the routines and separation from their parents.
“They got to run through their routine in smaller groups,” she said. “That’s sort of a big transition piece.”
She also said the lead pre-K teachers visit students’ homes twice a year to meet with families and learn more about their students.
Creamer said that, as the principal, she is the on-site administrator of the school, but the pre-K program is mostly separate from her jurisdiction.
“The teachers did a lot of work,” she said. “We try to do just business as normal.”
Jennifer Allred, a pre-K teacher at Ephesus Elementary and a Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year, said she has mixed feelings about the dynamics of her class this year.
“I’m interested to see what it’s like,” she said. “I’m a little apprehensive.”
Although Allred has taught middle school in the past, she said she knows she’s in the right place.
“I felt like I could make a bigger impact (in pre-K),” she said.