At Five-Year Mark, BHS Integrated Preschool Shows Growth

Jayme Szymczak, head teacher and Integrated Preschool Coordinator; Denise Oldham, Director of Special Education; and Jason Valdes Greenwood, Early Childhood Coordinator.
Jayme Szymczak, head teacher and Integrated Preschool Coordinator; Denise Oldham, Director of Special Education; and Jason Valdes Greenwood, Early Childhood Coordinator.

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

The integrated preschool located at Bedford High School began as a single classroom, offering one 5-day-a-week/half-day-long program designed to serve both students who need early intervention as well as so-called “typically developing” students. Five years later, the program has two 5-day/half-day classrooms and one 3-day/half-day program that currently serves a total of 15 preschoolers on Individual Education Plans (IEPs) plus 25 typically developing students. A balance between the two types of learners in the classroom is maintained intentionally.

Jason Valdes Greenwood, Early Childhood Coordinator for Bedford Schools, recounted the origins of the integrated preschool program. “[It] began as a collaboration between the Occupational Education department [at Bedford High]—which had a nursery school in the high school [building], where the high school students were able to get experience working with young children—and the Special Education department. It was designed to bring children back from outside programs to the Bedford community.

“For the first three years, we had one classroom—we kept adding students on IEPs until we reached our capacity,” Valdes Greenwood continued. “Then in 2011-12, we added another classroom—a 3-day program for the younger kids transitioning in from early intervention. This past year, we added yet another classroom, so now we’re running two 5-day integrated preschool classrooms and one 3-day integrated preschool classroom.”

“Looking ahead, there about 20 kids who are in early intervention now whom we’ll be evaluating that have potential to come into the program,” Valdes Greenwood added. The program, if was reported, often has a waiting list of students who want to attend the preschool.

Jayme Szymczak, head teacher and preschool coordinator, described the types of kindergarten-readiness activities that prepare students for school and explained why the integrated program is unique from other preschools.

“It looks pretty similar to what a typical preschool in town might look like, but we are a [more] diverse, multi-age program. We meet the needs of typically developing students as well as [those of] our special education students. We provide an integrated model for special education students in a supportive environment, and we provide comprehensive [support] services throughout our day,” Szymczak said.

Those comprehensive support services include an occupational therapist, a speech and language pathologist, and a physical therapist. All classrooms are taught by certified special education teachers as well. Additionally, Bedford High student interns—between 80 and 100 each school year—work with the preschoolers, who know them as their “high school friends.”

Activities for students include literacy development, such as rhyming, phonics and the Lively Letter program; pre-math skills are nurtured through exercises in identifying patterns and numbers. School readiness is developed in classroom routines, such as thematic show and tell, weather songs and games, snack and lunch, and indoor and outdoor interactive play.

“All of our activities are child-directed and designed to meet the needs of all the learners in our groups. Our goal is to develop life-long learners,” Szymczak said.

One of the many benefits of being located at Bedford High School is the availability of high school students who want to do internships at the preschool. The preschool also has the ability to work with the CASE (Concord Area Special Education) Collaborative, a program designed for students with disabilities.

The curriculum at the preschool follows the Massachusetts Guidelines for Preschool Learning Experiences, the Common Core and Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. Instruction is differentiated—based on skill level— and has a multi-sensory, full-body approach.

“All staff work together to provide each child with what they need to succeed,” stated the presentation handout. “The teachers’ roles are to support and facilitate each child’s learning.”

The newly dedicated outdoor classroom called “The PlayZone”—with specially designed sensory integration equipment and activities— was also noted as unique to the BHS Integrated Preschool. Szymczak reported that the program has been recognized by other districts as a model because of its many assets and mutually beneficial collaborative relationships.

There is also a financial benefit to the town, said Denise Oldham, Director of Special Education for Bedford Schools. “If we didn’t have this program, 15 students would require outside placement that are now here in the community.” Oldham calculated that this year, Bedford saved approximately $700,000 on the cost of educating these 15 preschoolers, not taking into account what transportation to outside placements would cost. The financial benefits, she emphasized, are over and above the academic, social and emotional benefits to the students, families, and peers.

On the subject of what the future holds for the still very young program, Szymczak said that continuing to develop student assessment data and comply with the Common Core standards would be key. Aligning the preschool goals for an even more seamless transition to kindergarten also ranked high.

“We want to continue to make our preschool program one of the best in the town,” Szymczak said.

Note: Applications for the Bedford High Integrated Preschool are now being accepted for the 2013-14 academic year. Click here for the page that provides a “welcome letter” with general information, program schedule and an application form:

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