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Riverhead Pre-K Program Expanding to Hampton Bays

The popular Just Kids program was closed in Riverhead for the summer but will be open for students for the fall semester.

A popular Riverhead preschool program will be expanding soon.

The Just Kids Early Childhood Learning Center, which has locations in Riverhead, William Floyd, Middle Island and Lindenhurts, will soon be offering their services to . The Hampton Bays school district will be welcoming its youngest crop of students to ever grace the school's halls this upcoming year.

Not only high schoolers be entering through the doors on the first day of school; over 70 four-year-olds will be attending classes in the building as the district moves pre-K services to the high school.

According to Lars Clemensen, superintendent of the Hampton Bays school district, the high school's wood and metal shop are being converted into two new classrooms that will accomodate the district's free universal pre-K program, which will be run this year by SCOPE and Riverhead's Just Kids.

The program, which is funded through a $89,500 state grant, was previously housed in the district's elementary school. However, with an influx of students in that school and the classroom needed, Clemensen said an alternative was sought.

"We didn't want to shut down the pre-k program because we believe in early childhood education," said Clemensen. 

The high school idea, said Clemensen will not only allow the district to keep the pre-K program, but also expand it to accommodate 72 kids, including nine special education students.

"Thirty percent of our incoming kindergarden classes do not go to nursery school, said Clemensen. "Those children have a great disparity compared to the children that had pre-k services."

"We want to close that gap," Clemensen said, noting that the high school plan is allowing the district to do just that without any cost to taxpayers.

The idea also has a component that will benefit teens enrolled in the BOCES Early Childhood Education program, he added.

By having the pre-K students in the high school, the BOCES students will be able to work directly with the four-year-olds and their teachers and by the end of the two-year program, Clemensen said, those students will be certified and licensed to work at a nursery school.

"They will be able to work their way through college," said Clemensen. "I am very excited about this."

In the fall, between five and 10 high school juniors will be admitted into the program, said Clemensen.

As for how high schoolers will adapt to having four-year-olds in their halls, Clemensen said, "I think our students will rise to the challenge and be caring and protective of the younger kids." 

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