Buckhannon Academy Elementary School will have two new pre-K classrooms. Students from kindergarten and first grade celebrate with BAES Principal Susanne Britton and Assistant Principal Shannon Lewis.

BUCKHANNON – Administrators at Upshur County Schools announced the opening of five new pre-K classrooms Monday, which will be utilized beginning with the 2019-2020 school year.

Buckhannon Academy Elementary School will be home to two new classrooms, and new classrooms will be established in Union and Hodgesville elementary schools. A pre-K classroom that was opened this year as a pilot at French Creek Elementary will become a fully functioning pre-K during the upcoming school year.

Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus, superintendent of Upshur County Schools, said these classrooms are in addition to the current pre-K offerings in the county.

“Right now, we are reconfiguring our pre-K classrooms,” Stankus said. “Half of our pre-K students will still be in off-site pre-Ks because we do not have the sites in the schools to have them all in the schools. We are just gradually going to do this.”

Charliena Helmick, a collaborative pre-K partner, said for the last 14 years, Island Nursery Pre-K has been a public pre-K collaborative with Upshur County Schools.

“We have worked along with Union Elementary to make sure our students had all of the opportunities available,” Helmick said. “Union Elementary and its staff have made our students and staff feel like their own. We join them for special activities during and after school, and on field trips. Island Nursery Pre-K is excited to collaborate with the additional classroom at Union Elementary as we look forward to serving more pre-K-aged children in the classrooms in every school.”

Union Elementary School students celebrated the ribbon cutting for the new Pre-K classroom in their pajamas. Students from Mrs. Woody’s second-grade class were also gearing up to celebrate Dr. Seuss Week.

Lori Woods, pre-K director, said currently there are 14 pre-Ks in the county.

“In 2012, pre-K became universal, meaning any 4-year-old who wanted a pre-K spot could have a spot. It didn’t mean it was mandatory – and Pre-K is still not mandatory,” she said.

Woods said Upshur County Schools collaborate with Head Start and day care centers to deliver the pre-K program and offer day care before and after.

While in pre-K, students learn socialization skills because a lot of the time, they have not been around other children their age.

They learn English Language Arts, listening skills, rhyming and math concepts. By the end of pre-K, students can do some addition and subtraction – not with pencil and paper, but with toys and manipulatives. A lot of pre-K learning is play-based, which is age-appropriate.

The first stop Monday celebrating Upshur County School Pre-K classrooms was French Creek Elementary School. Those pictured are, back from left, Melinda Stewart, Lori Woods, Dr. Debra Harrison, Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus and Kasey Baisden, front, from left, French Creek Elementary students Jase Hull, Ryley Lee, Katelyn Legg and Easton Blackwell.

“Right now, if you compare the percentage of kindergarten students who were enrolled in pre-K, we are missing out on approximately 30 percent of the pre-K students who are age eligible,” Woods said. “Hopefully, by opening new classrooms, we will get more of the kids who are eligible for pre-K.”

Kelley McNeise is a parent of a child who will be in pre-K next school year. She said she is excited about the new classrooms.

“I have a preschool background. It is so fundamental that students develop those skills before coming to kindergarten,” McNeise said. “They learn socialization skills and how to function in a group. The fact that the pre-Ks will be housed in the school buildings is so exciting. They will be able to get comfortable within the building, and we are super excited.”

Upshur County Schools will provide in-district transportation for children to attend their home schools along with their siblings. Teachers in the pre-K classrooms will be fully certified, some with various specializations.

Hodgesville Elementary School received $2.2 million grant from the School Building Authority. Part of the funds will be used to build on a classroom to house the pre-K classroom at Hodgesville Elementary School. Students from third, fourth and fifth grade attended the ribbon cutting ceremony with Principal Janet Phillips Monday at their school.

As Upshur County employees, all teachers will be credentialed by the West Virginia Department of Education and classroom assistants will have the WVDE Early Childhood Classroom Assistant Teacher certification.

Upshur County is working with day care providers to determine if after-school care can be available in the school buildings.

Stankus said that in terms of development, the importance of early childhood education can’t be overstated.

“A child’s early years are the foundation for his or her future development. Pre-school is important for providing a strong base for lifelong learning and learning abilities. We are very proud to be serving our families and children by increasing the pre-K offerings in our schools,” Stankus said.

To be eligible for pre-K, children must be 4 years old on or before June 30. Enrollment forms are available online at www.upshurschools.com and or can be picked up at any elementary school or at the Upshur County Schools Central Office. Questions may be directed to Lori Woods by calling 304-472-5480, ext. 1043.