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Princeton Is Awarded State Grant to Start Preschool Program

Candace Braun

As the new school year approaches, Princeton Regional School District will be moving forward with its goal to close the minority achievement gap. Thanks to a $108,000 grant from the state, Princeton will have a pre-kindergarten program this fall.

The district received this grant after submitting a five-page written proposal to the state seeking Early Launch to Learning Initiative (ELLI) grant funds for the 2004-05 school year. The state granted a combined $1.9 million to New Jersey schools, awarding ELLI grants to 24 different districts. Princeton was the only district in Mercer County to receive a grant.

"We're very delighted that we're one of the districts selected for this initiative," said Assistant Superintendent Jeffrey Graber, who has been working toward an integrated preschool program such as this for quite awhile. "We really believe that this is critically important to the academic success of our students."

Due to start the third week in September, the program will be available to all four-year-olds living within the Princeton School District. Thirty children will be selected by a lottery for the program, which will be divided between a morning and afternoon session. The pre-kindergarten will be offered to special needs and economically disadvantaged children at little or no cost, as well as to other interested community families at a tuition cost that has not yet been determined, said Mr. Graber.

The goal is to make sure all students have an opportunity to receive a pre-kindergarten education. Princeton's diverse community and its desire to close the minority achievement gap made it a likely candidate for the grant, he said.

In 2003-04, Princeton Schools had an enrollment of 72 percent Caucasian, 11 percent Asian, nine percent African-American, and eight percent Hispanic students, with Spanish being the second most widely spoken language in the community, according to the district's proposal to the state, which pointed out that "one of the most important strategies for closing this achievement gap would be providing students a high quality preschool experience that will prepare them socially, emotionally, and developmentally for school."

The children will be taught under "High Scope," a Department of Education-approved curriculum for preschool students that focuses on early learning in literacy and mathematics and enhanced social interaction between students and their parents and teachers.

"We see this as a way to develop a real love of school and a real love of learning," said the assistant superintendent.

Mr. Graber added that the district will be under the gun to get things rolling within the next few weeks, since it wasn't notified until Thursday that it would be receiving the grant for this school year. The next step will be hiring an early childhood education teacher and teacher's aid, and selecting the 30 children who will take part in the program, he said.

The classes will be run at one of Princeton's four elementary schools, said Mr. Graber. The district will be looking beyond its own facilities to area non-profits to provide child care for these children outside of class time.

He said that the district also intends to look to similar programs in the community for partners in preschool education, with the hope that establishing a relationship could open up more opportunities for Princeton children: "This [grant] money will be very well spent."

Princeton High School also recently received a $300,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Smaller Learning Communities grant program. The money will be used for the professional development of the school's faculty, said Principal Gary Snyder.

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