SOUTH PORTLAND — Some furniture was still on order, and the first bus was about 30 minutes late, but the expansion of the city’s preschool program was met with enthusiasm and energy Sept. 10 at James O. Kaler Elementary School.

Parents who put their children on the bus and then came to school to greet them before classes did not fret about the delayed arrival, while expressing optimism about what the program offers.

Shawn and Kristen McGillicuddy said their son, Brendan, was ready to go.

“He was very excited to get on the bus and go to the big-boy school,” Kristen McGillicuddy said.

The four-hour weekday program is the second established by the School Department. The first, at the Opportunity Alliance Family Center in Brick Hill, opened in February 2011.

The department plans to provide preschool classes, and the transportation to them, throughout the city by 2015.

At Kaler Elementary School, children are led through four hours of daily lessons and activities by teacher Millissa Wlodylo and educational technician Patty Brooks.

“A lot of the skills we are doing here, they are doing in kindergarten,” Wlodylo said about the Opening the World of Learning program, known as OWL.

“They are going to be exhausted at the end of the day,” she said. “We will be, too.”

Wlodylo said the program encourages early literacy, enhances socialization skills and requires parental involvement. The sessions are split into group and individual play and learning periods, with group activities lasting no more than 15 minutes.

Wlodylo and Brooks bring experience in Head Start and other early learning programs to the classroom.

Each said they had been surprised and pleased to learn they would work together after meeting during training on the OWL program.

The expanded program at Kaler is funded through a $125,000 grant from the Portland-based Great Bay Foundation. Grant funding expires next year, and School Superintendent Suzanne Godin said earlier this summer the district would look to pay for the program using savings from other department operations.

The preschool program targets children from lower-income families, based in part on eligibility for subsidized lunches. There is room for 16 students in the Kaler program – 12 for children who live in the area and four open-enrollment spots.

Wlodylo and Brooks visited children at home and hosted an open house before classes began. Those touches were appreciated by parents, who said it helped make their children more comfortable getting on the bus.

“It was a bit different, but I thought it was great,” Shawn McGillicuddy said. “They even took (Brendan’s) photo. I thought that was fantastic.”

Jennnifer Kinney Brown enrolled her daughter, Maggie, and said Maggie was eager to get to school.

“She’s loving it,” Brown said, noting that having her three older children in preschool programs produced benefits when they began kindergarten.

“They weren’t learning to sit in a classroom, they were learning school work,” she said.

Tina Owen brought her son, Kaden, to school. While waiting for the bus to arrive, Kaden made friends with Jack Ferger, the first preschooler to arrive.

“We are new to the area,” Owen said as the boys played in the sunshine. “It’s good for him to learn and be a little independent. He’s ready.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

Leading the way to the first day of preschool classes at Kaler Elementary School in South Portland are, from left, Erin Boland holding her son, Gevin; Boland’s daughter, Cora, and Bredan McGillicuddy and his mother, Kristen. The four-hour classes for 4-year-olds began Sept. 10 and are the second prescghool program in city schools.

Preschool teacher Millissa Wlodylo greets Reeve Grenier DiDonato as he gets off the bus for the first day of preschool classes Sept. 10 at Kaler Elementary School in South Portland. “I think he is going to thrive,” said Reeve’s mother, Karen Grenier.

Jack Ferger and his father, Guy, were the first to arrive at preschool classes at Kaler Elementary School on Sept. 10. The class got off to a late start because the bus arrived late, but teacher Millissa Wlodylo assured parents their 4-years-olds would have a full day of learning and fun.

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