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Preschool Director Identifies Challenges

In a presentation to the Milford School Committee, at a recent meeting, Shining Star Preschool Director Lucy Jenkins, detailed the two greatest challenges currently facing the preschool—the needs of ELL (English Language Learners) population, from a special education perspective and bridging the gap between early intervention and preschool.

While Shining Star has been working in tandem with the Family and Community Network, which is located in the same building, to identify children in need of early intervention, Jenkins admitted that "we're missing a certain population - kids that don't go through early intervention, end up coming to preschool ... and then we're recognizing that they may have a disability."

Jenkins praised Sara Humiston, Coordinator of the Family and Community Network, for their efforts to identify children in need of early intervention. "They've been great, as far as preparing them to either be seen in a screening or tested for services," she noted.

Another difficulty facing the preschool is in determining whether a child has a learning disability or whether the problem can be attributed to a language barrier. "This is a problem everywhere," Jenkins stated, "Not just in Milford."

In order to better make that determination, Jenkins informed the Board that Shining Star features a Friday afternoon diagnostics group as an alternative to immediately contracting out for a bilingual speech pathologist. The two-and-one-half-hour sessions are run by Yvette Alleman, who is both a classroom teacher and who also works for the Family and Community Network.

During the six-week-long diagnostics group, a speech pathologist is brought in to conduct a full language group before a decision is made on whether the child needs further evaluation for a learning disability. "I think it's cut down on the number of students we have to evaluate," Jenkins determined. "And then, the parents have the option of [having the child] re-evaluated or of signing their child up and being a tuition-paying student."

Jenkins also noted that the number of special education referrals has been growing and this year, it far exceeded the projections. "We expect between 50-60 referrals a year. This year, we were up to 105 - the highest we ever had."

The Board was sympathetic to Jenkins' plight and inquired as to how they could help. Jenkins' replied that an increase in the hours of the support staff would be of immediate benefit.

Board member, Donald Quattrochio, was in favor of increased support, recalling that, at a previous presentation, it was pointed out that the transition period to a regular classroom for special education students was identified as being seven years. "It's extremely clear that we should be investing in ELL resources ... because you're getting them that exposure early on and will help those kids get into a normal classroom setting that much sooner."

Jenkins clarified that the increase in the special education population is not restricted to the ELL population but is "increasing for every type of disability."

Quattrochio continued with his vote of support by pointing out that "if we could get these kids into the program two years earlier, instead of getting them integrated into the classroom at the high school level [they can] be integrated in the 4th or 5th grade. [If] we invest in that kind of thing, then we have a better chance of accomplishing what needs to be done."

The Board then promised to investigate ways to increase the hours for the support staff.


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