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Third Gill-Montague pre-K programs  installed at Great Falls Middle School

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Summer Forcier, a senior at Turners Falls High School, works with students at the Pre-K Discovery Program at the Great Falls Middle School.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Summer Forcier, a senior at Turners Falls High School, works with students at the Pre-K Discovery Program at the Great Falls Middle School.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Nicole Voudren, a senior at Turners Falls High School, works with Aiden Sikoski at the Pre-K Discovery Program at the Great Falls Middle School.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Nicole Voudren, a senior at Turners Falls High School, works with Aiden Sikoski at the Pre-K Discovery Program at the Great Falls Middle School.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Summer Forcier, a senior at Turners Falls High School, works with students at the Pre-K Discovery Program at the Great Falls Middle School.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Nicole Voudren, a senior at Turners Falls High School, works with Aiden Sikoski at the Pre-K Discovery Program at the Great Falls Middle School.

TURNERS FALLS — Chanda Waryas O’Keefe’s room may be the only Great Falls Middle School classroom with a sandbox and no middle-schoolers.

The 13 students in the classroom on a Tuesday morning are in the 3-to-5 age range, with two exceptions — both teens.

Then-interim superintendent Nadine Ekstrom moved the district’s third preschool classroom to the shared middle and high school last fall with the idea that the location would facilitate involvement of high school students.

On Tuesday, Turners Falls High School seniors Summer Forcier and Nichole Voudren helped the teacher and paraprofessional shuttle children between the imaginary school bus and art tables, broker exchanges of stuffed animals for plastic food, supervise marker searches and the other pursuits of a pre-kindergarten crowd.

Voudren said she wants to be a preschool teacher and will be enrolling at Greenfield Community College in the fall to continue her studies in early childhood education, begun with the high school’s early childhood program.

Participation in the pre-K program is not through that class but is among the options for students participating in a one-period internship program.

Waryas O’Keefe said the older students are screened and must be approved by the principal to work with the younger ones, and most are planning on continuing their education and become teachers.

Forcier is an exception — she is headed for the Marine Corps in July. “I picked this internship just because I like working with kids,” she said, adding that it is also a good learning opportunity, and she is seeing the different ways kids learn — but mostly it’s fun.

Voudren said this is her first large-scale experience with managing preschoolers, and she has learned a lot about handling the children if they’re misbehaving or over-excited.

Involving high school students isn’t new, Waryas O’Keefe said, but the new location does open the opportunity up to students who don’t have transportation.

The other two preschool classrooms remain in the Montague Elementary’s Hillcrest building.

The preschools use the Tools of the Mind curriculum, which Waryas O’Keefe said teaches children to self-regulate at a young age.

Kathleen Adams, principal of Gill Elementary School and coordinator of the Gill-Montague Regional School District’s early childhood program, said the program has been doing well in its new location and she intends to extend hours into the afternoon next year.

Currently, the Discovery Preschool is a half-day morning program, and geared toward parents who want to send their children to preschool for several days a week.

“It was the brainchild of Nadine Ekstrom to offer a more flexible option to families in Turners Falls and to also be a laboratory for the high school kids,” Adams said.

Although the middle school location is only about a mile from its old location, Adams said it is a different neighborhood.

Classes run from 8:30 to
11:30 a.m., in two-, three- or five-day school weeks. The program is open to children aged 3 to 5 and the cost is $18 per day, with a sliding scale tied to income.

Enrollment is open and more information is available through the Hillcrest office, at 413-863-9526.

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