The Paramus Early Childhood Center (ECC) was recently awarded renewed accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Children, continuing its education of preschool children in Paramus.
Established in 1973 at the Barry Street wing of Paramus High School, the center serves as a preschool for young children in the borough. The original wing was renovated in 2006, and since then the program has continued to grow and expand to Parkway School's kindergarten wing, according to supervisor Gail Wiser.
"We're now in two sites, but they have the same support and the same staff," Wiser said.
Over the past several years, the program has gone from a three per week half-day program to five half-days per week, and has two classes of 3-year-olds in addition to its 4-year-old classes, according to Wiser. Four-year-olds now also have the option of attending a full-day program.
Being accredited was a large undertaking, and each teacher had to put together what Wiser called "a crate of documentation" that included information about both their individual classes and the program in general. Wiser said she was proud of the work done by both her teachers and other staff members, calling their efforts "tremendous."
"The entire process took an entire year, and when Gail talks about the amount of work involved, she's not kidding," said Acting Superintendent Joseph Lupo.
Each classroom is fully equipped with a teacher and two aides; only the smallest classroom in the program has a single aide, according to Wiser. Classes are fully inclusive, and students with special needs work in the same classrooms as mainstream students.
The school features a speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist and a special education support teacher who circulates between classrooms as needed. Four-year-olds also get lessons on dance and movement from a dance teacher, and there are also certified teachers for art and music along with a media specialist who visits each class.
"Not that our little 3- and 4-year-olds go to the library, but it's really a story time and a literacy class," Wiser said.
A school psychologist is also present, and is available for all students, not just those with special needs, according to Wiser. For instance, if a student is having trouble becoming adjusted to the school with such problems as separation issues, the psychologist is available to help both the child and his or her parents overcome the issue.
Educationally, the ECC embraces creative curriculum, one of six programs recognized by the Department of Education, according to Wiser. The lessons are kept developmentally appropriate, with activities stimulating the students but not being so difficult they become overwhelming, she said.
"We try to address these little young learners exactly where they are, and move them forward," Wiser said. "We like to present them with challenge, but challenge is obtainable challenge; challenges that will inspire their interest and promote their growth, not challenges that will frustrate them."
Creative curriculum is focused on play, discovery and hands-on activities, according to Wiser. She cited an example where students were learning about shapes and told to retrieve a rhombus from the blocks scattered around the classroom. One student discovered that two triangles put together formed a diamond, and the teacher used that as an example of how two identical shapes can be put together to form a new one, creating an additional lesson.
"We strongly believe in this curriculum because it provides learning through play," Wiser said. "We value play, and we value discovery."
Classes study certain units one at a time, each covering a variety of related subjects. For example, a unit on clothing would also cover fabric and the plants used to make it, and a unit on garbage would also cover recycling and the Earth.
The most important part of the ECC program is showing young children what a positive experience school can be, Wiser said.
"We really want our incoming 3-year-olds and 4-years-olds to experience their first year in the Paramus school district as one of joy and learning and friendship, at the safe, wonderful place that school can really be," Wiser said.
More information about the ECC can be found at paramus.k12.nj.us/ppsd/earlychildhood.