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HUNTINGTON — Gateway Regional has been awarded a $50,000 grant to expand access to affordable high-quality preschool through the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative.

The Healey-Driscoll administration announced on April 4 that 16 school districts would be receiving $3.4 million, representing an additional 488 seats across public schools, family child care, YMCAs, Head Start and other community-based preschool programs.

“We know that the high cost of child care is holding back our families, providers and our economy. That’s why I am proud to be in Barnstable today to announce that we are expanding access to affordable, high-quality preschool in 16 school districts, creating hundreds of new seats for children in Gateway Cities and rural communities across the state,” said Gov. Maura Healey. “Our ‘Gateway to Pre-K’ agenda would build on this progress by expanding high-quality pre-K access to even more communities, lowering costs for more families and ensuring our hardworking providers have the support they need to deliver high-quality care.”

“It was a lengthy application and it’s a huge win for our community to be a recipient, as it is multiple years and will be transformative to our ability to provide the programming our community is looking for with these additional funds. Kurt Garivaltis and Steph Conway worked hard on putting this together with assistance from our Curriculum Director, Deanna LeBlanc,” said Superintendent Kristen Smidy, adding that Gateway  was the only rural school district to get the grant this round.

Gateway has been investing in and expanding its preschool for the past decade or more. “Right now, we have free pre-K for all families. We offer half-day and full-day programming four days a week [Monday-Thursday]. Typically, our three-year-olds are offered half-day spots and our four-year-olds have full-day spots unless a student’s Individualized Education Program calls for a different length of time,” Smidy said.

There are currently two half-day preschool programs at Littleville, one full-day program that is located within the high school that is also associated with Gateway’s Early Childhood Chapter 74 Vocational Program, and two half-day programs and a full day program at Chester. Across all the programs, 65 students enrolled are enrolled in preschool in the district, she said.

Smidy said the early planning grant will be used to conduct a self assessment of the existing PreK program. “We will be critically looking at our facilities, programming, partnerships, and operations and talking to stakeholders in the community to see what about our pre-K programs works for our families and what needs to change to work better for our families. We will then be putting together a new proposal for funding in order to make these recommended changes to ensure that our pre-K offering fits the needs of our hilltowns.”

Smidy said the district can then apply for up to $375,000 next year and $675,000 the following year with the goal of expanding to include more students, collaborate with early education partners in the area, and more time in the classroom.

“As the director of Rural Affairs and a former school teacher, I know how extremely important it is that every child regardless of where they live in the commonwealth, have an opportunity to start out on the right pathway. I appreciate the investment the Healey-Driscoll administration is making in our youngest students. I congratulate the Gateway school district, and all they do to educate students and prepare them for a life of success,” said Director of Rural Affairs Anne Gobi.

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