After nearly a decade of planning, the Bay Shore School District has opened a pre-kindergarten center at the site of the former New York State Armory on Brentwood Road.
The new facility will consolidate the district’s free, universal pre-kindergarten program into one building once construction is fully completed.
Superintendent Joseph Bond said in a phone interview Nov. 20 that the district was able to purchase the building in 2012 for just $1 through legislation sponsored by former Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon) and assemblyman Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood).
“We first put the shovel in the ground about five years ago, but we’ve been working on this for a long time,” Bond said. “Our UPK program is part of what makes Bay Shore a destination location for families who want the best education for their children.”
The district has invested $15 million into renovating the building since 2012, Bond added. It also used $1 million in QZAB federal stimulus money, $4 million in SMART Bond funds, and $8.5 million in Transfer to Capital funding. An anonymous donation of $1.5 million was also provided through the YMCA.
At this time, there are 149 students and 34 staff members at the new center. Roughly 300 students will be housed in the facility once construction is completed, Bond said.
In the past, Bay Shore’s UPK program was split across four sites, two of which were district-owned and two that were owned by outside providers. The new facility will offer 12 classes on-site. Some courses will still be offered at the Great South Bay YMCA on West Main Street until construction is completed.
The building will house 22 classrooms, dedicated art and music rooms, a technology lab, library, multipurpose room with a stage, a full kitchen and a health office, and additional rooms and offices.
The goal of the new UPK Center, Bond said, is to give children a healthy start so they can attain skills and concepts needed to have a successful academic experience.
“That whole first year of kindergarten is like first grade, in some ways,” Bond continued. “They come in knowing what's expected of them, their school routines, they know numbers and letters, so everything is kind of moved up a year. That kind of manifests itself in improved academic performance for children throughout their academic career.”
The program also serves as a tangible way the district is closing achievement gaps among all families, regardless of income.
“Previous to this, for the most part, only wealthier families were able to afford this type of education for their kids,” he said. “What’s nice is that this program levels the playing field.”
The UPK program is made possible through a grant from New York State. According to a press release, the district receives the largest UPK grant allocation in New York, outside of city school districts.
Any child residing in district boundaries that will turn 4 years old on or before Dec. 1, 2020 can be enrolled in the UPK program. The curriculum is lined with state standards for pre-kindergarten in English language arts and math. Socio-emotional learning and bilingual education curriculums are also implemented.