This educational shift was initiated to attract more members of the community, says Sue Kropff, the preschool program director, who was hired in January 2006. “When I began there were five children. By the end of that year there were 20 students and a waiting list.”
To make the transition from a daycare to a state-certified preschool program, the YMCA had to comply with hundreds of strict standards put in place by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
“We even have to maintain a certain temperature and lighting in the room,” says Ms. Kropff. Among other things, the Y must provide a certain amount of learning-focused material, twice-daily nutritious snacks, and comply with a long list of safety precautions.
The well-lit room where the classes take place is divided into several learning zones. At one end is a reading area with bookshelves and rug mats; in another corner is a miniature kitchen, complete with a replica stove and dress-up outfits. Displayed on the walls throughout the room are posters with letters, numbers, shapes, and simple instructions.
According to the preschool teacher, Edith Schriever-Korstanje, each of these different components teaches the 17 children enrolled in the program about their daily surroundings. The social interactions between children, she says, help to prepare them for kindergarten.
Since the MDI YMCA is well equipped for the high energy of active children, the program emphasizes physical activities in the curriculum. Children are encouraged to partake in an hour of physical activity each day, with activities ranging from swimming lessons to gymnastics.
“Studies show that if you can let some of that energy out you can better focus on what you need to accomplish during the day,” says Ms. Kropff. However, beyond providing young children with a necessary outlet, she says it is important to encourage an active lifestyle in our youth when obesity is at an all-time high in the United States.
“The physical component is what truly what sets us apart from other programs on the island,” says Ms. Kropff. “Where else can they run around on a rainy day?”
The program operates during the workweek and on many holidays, though children must attend for at least two half-days each week. The program costs $90 to $156 each week, depending on the number of days attended. The YMCA also offers an afterschool program for children ages 5 to 8.
The YMCA currently provides financial assistance to approximately 30 percent of its preschool and afterschool program clients. While Ms. Kropff is unsure how the state’s recent funding cuts to the DHHS will affect families who depend on it for assistance, she says the YMCA will continue to accommodate families who cannot afford the full cost of the program.
Although they are not looking to expand the size of the program, says Ms. Kropff, they have room for five more children in the preschool and seven more in the after school programs. The YMCA also is looking to provide infant and toddler care facilities at other locations on Mount Desert Island.
“We’re really happy with the program,” says Lei Wu, whose older daughter passed through the preschool and whose younger daughter, Hilary, is presently enrolled. “This has really helped their confidence.”
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