November 24, 2021

New Preschool Opens as PPS, YMCA, Community Housing Work Together

OFF TO A FAST START: Fifteen 3- and 4-year-olds are part of Princeton Public Schools’ (PPS) sixth free preschool classroom, which opened this fall at the Crimmins Learning Center at Princeton Community Village — a collaborative initiative of PPS, Princeton Community Housing, and the Princeton Family YMCA. (Photo courtesy of Princeton Family YMCA)

By Donald Gilpin

Fifteen children, ages 3 and 4, are attending a new free preschool classroom this fall at Princeton Community Village.

Princeton Family YMCA CEO Kate Bech commented on the partnership of Princeton Public Schools (PPS), Princeton Community Housing (PCH), and the YMCA that launched the preschool in September.  “It was a classic example of ‘It takes a village,’” she said. “Princeton can be a bit siloed, but this is a great example of what happens when we’re all working together to come up with solutions that work.”

She pointed out that 13 or 14 of the 15 preschool students are residents in affordable housing, from families with low income. “This program is essential to them, and it’s great to get them in this early, for their learning and for the long-term trajectory of their education.”

PPS’ sixth free preschool class, the new Crimmins Learning Center classroom at Princeton Community Village is using the same space where the YMCA has operated the Princeton Young Achievers after-school program since 2011.  The preschool runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the after-school program operates until 6 p.m. every day.

“We are thrilled to see our shared vision come to fruition,” said Bech. “We know that there is a serious need in town for quality, accessible preschool for working families who cannot afford private options. We are proud to work together with our organizational partners to give 15 children a solid foundation on which to build their educational futures. It’s the best investment we could ever make.”

PPS Supervisor of Preschool and Special Projects Valerie Ulrich approached the YMCA last year about possible classroom space. The district has offered preschool at Riverside and Johnson Park Schools for almost 20 years, using state funding to address “pockets of poverty.”

Ulrich saw a growing need for additional classrooms and additional funding. With 150 students registered for 75 available spots this past summer, space was prioritized for qualifying students from economically disadvantaged families, and a lottery was conducted for the few remaining spots. 

The state requires that school districts partner with qualified local child care providers, but many of the community’s early childhood learning providers could not meet all of the state’s stringent criteria. In 2019, however, the PPS partnered with the YWCA Princeton and successfully added three more classrooms to make a total of five. The addition of the Crimmins Learning Center brings the total to six.

The PCH Development Corporation, an affiliate of PCH which owns and operates the Crimmins Learning Center, was eager to partner with the YMCA and the PPS to launch the new preschool classroom.

“We immediately embraced the idea,” said PCH Development Corporation Executive Director Ed Truscelli. “There was no hesitation at all. We thought that this would be a wonderful feature to have in the community, especially with the pandemic. It’s part of Princeton Community Housing’s mission to not just provide welcoming and affordable homes, but also provide support so that people can succeed, and the after-school program and now the Pre-K program are fundamental services that can help parents and families grow and thrive.”

Bech emphasized the importance of the contributions made by PCH. “I can’t say enough about PCH and their volunteers,” she said. “The folks on their board and Ed Truscelli do such an amazing job of giving residents a positive, enriching opportunity for growth and learning in every aspect of their lives.”

She continued, “It’s a real testimony to them that they value this enough that they say, ‘Absolutely! Let’s make this happen.’ That’s a real credit to them.”

Leigh Zink, YMCA senior director of youth development and outreach, who oversees the program, agreed. “This is a great example of what creative thinking and collaboration can achieve,” she said. “We all share a passion for ensuring that children get the best start they can early in their lives.”

Ulrich discussed some of the long-term benefits of preschool education. “It’s the one thing that we can do as a community that has heaps of empirical evidence of how it improves the lives of the economically disadvantaged,” she said. “Children who attend preschool are better prepared for kindergarten. They’re less likely to be held back or classified into special education. They’re more likely to go to college. They’re more likely to have higher paying jobs.”

She added, “It’s a game changer for families. To be able to offer it for free while families work, it’s hard to quantify how impactful that is.”