SANFORD — Parents of 4-year-olds who would like their kids to take part in a new pre-kindergarten program starting in the fall should register now.

That’s the word from Eric Knowlton, the assistant superintendent for the Sanford School Department.

The program, a collaboration between Sanford schools, Head Start and Child Development Services of York County, will offer a free comprehensive preschool program to about 80 Sanford youngsters who will turn 4 years old by Oct. 15.

Walk-in registration will take place at Head Start, 6 Spruce St. on Monday, May 18. 

Knowlton said all families looking to enroll their 4-year-olds are encouraged to apply; those who meet free and reduced cost lunch guidelines will have priority.

Classes, staffed by an early childhood education teacher and an education technician, will be held at the Emery Street Head Start Center and at the Robie educational center adjacent to North Parish Church on Main Street, in the city’s downtown sector.

Sanford school officials in December said they’d been successful in obtaining about $825,000 in federal grant money funneled through the state education department over four years, for the program. The allocation is part of $14.8 million awarded to the state to expand public preschool in 10 Maine counties over the four-year period; the state will receive about $3.5 million in the first year.

The local program is designed to expand and to serve more children over time. Knowlton, in a prior interview, said seven classrooms are planned for the second year, nine in the third year and 12 classrooms, or roughly 200 or more youngsters, in the fourth year of the program.

The program will teach youngsters to be ready for kindergarten and the more academic learning that comes with it. They’ll learn what school is like, how to listen while a story is being read, how to ride a school bus, all about lunch and more. Meals and transportation will be provided.

Classes will be held from 8:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. on a school year schedule, beginning Sept. 2. The daily schedule includes a rest period.

As with most grants, over time, the federal contribution decreases. But in Maine, the state reimburses 100 percent of the cost of public preschool for four-year-olds, Knowlton explained, so even as the federal contribution eventually peters out, costs are expected to be covered.

State education department spokeswoman Samantha Warren said enrollment in programs for four-year-olds is entirely voluntarily. In a December interview she said there are currently more than 5,000 four-year-olds participating in public preschool programs in the state, more than double the number enrolled a decade ago.

Knowlton said he expects no trouble filing the 80 slots.

Melissa Coreau of Head Start said she’s already been processing some applications.

“Now is the time,” to register, she said.

Families will need to complete a registration form and provide copies of their income and child’s birth certificate. Those who can’t make the May 18 walk-in registration at the Head Start Center on Spruce Street may drop off applications there or at the Sanford School Department offices on the second floor of City Hall, 919 Main St. through May 26.

For more information, call Head Start at York County Community Action Corporation at 324-5762 ext. 2963 and ask for Pre-K enrollment.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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