Universal pre-k programs touted at Briarwood meet

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Queens pre-school parents, teachers and administrators gathered in the auditorium of JHS 217 in Briarwood last Thursday night to talk about the importance of maintaining the state-funded universal pre-kindergarten program, which is slated to be cut from next year’s budget.

“This program is very well-planned,” said Uma Sengupta, a district leader in Briarwood, Richmond Hill and parts of Jamaica and Ozone Park who organized the meeting. “This is like the basic foundation of the education of a child. It’s very important for their future career.”

Sengupta has been teaching in the United States for 23 years and owns two pre-schools in Flushing called the Rainbow Montessori International Schools.

Started in 1998, UPK allows 4-year-olds to receive 2 1/2 hours of state-funded pre-school education every weekday.

The program serves some 60,000 4-year-olds throughout New York state, including 44,000 within New York City.

“I have a 3-year-old daughter in nursery right now and I’m paying $3,000 a year for it,” said Amilcar Rodriguez of Ozone Park. “With UPK, the state funds it, so it’s a big break for me.”

Rodriguez, who attended pre-school under the Head Start program in the 1970s, believes strongly that pre-schooling makes a difference in a child’s development.

“I’ve had parents tell me they can see the difference between a UPK child and a non-UPK child. The benefits are definitely there,” he said. “I’m going to go around to my neighbors with petitions, make a couple of phone calls. If that’s what it takes as a parent, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Charles Paprocki, the manager of the Early Childhood Strategic Group, a non-profit umbrella organization that advocates for children, said his office had been sending in 10,000 signatures a week to Albany protesting the proposed elimination of UPK since Gov. George Pataki announced state budget cuts about a month ago.

Paprocki urged UPK supporters to fill out and send in yellow postcards distributed at the meeting asking Pataki to restore funding for UPK. He also urged parents, teachers and administrators to call Pataki’s office to tell him not to eliminate UPK on April 8, which has been designated the UPK Virtual Lobby Day.

“I think once they’ve heard everyone’s voice, the record speaks for itself,” said Bea Pascucci, the moderator of the meeting who owns Parsons Pre-School in Jamaica and Briarwood Early Childhood Center.

Several pre-school owners and teachers emphasized the importance of pre-school in helping children with language, auditory and visual discrimination, socialization and independence.

“A lot of 4-year-olds come in, and it’s the first time they’re away from a babysitter,” said Joy McLaughlin, the owner of A Special Place For Kids day care center in Jamaica. “They cry for a week, then they adjust. Now they’re ready for school, and teachers can teach.”

McLaughlin said many children who attend UPK come from poor, single-parent families and would probably not be doing much if they were not in pre-school.

“They look forward to their 2 1/2 hours every day,” McLaughlin said. “By the time children leave our center, they are much more outgoing.”

At her pre-school, UPK kids learn to color, build with blocks, use computers and read, McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin read aloud a letter sent to her by City Comptroller William Thompson Jr., who is against cutting UPK.

“Having served as president of the New York City Board of Education for five years, during which time I fought for the implementation of universal pre-k, I know first hand that this short-sighted budget proposal will hurt the children,” Thompson wrote.

Another forum on UPK has been planned by the Early Childhood Strategic Group for Tuesday, March 25, at 9 a.m. at 130 East 59th St. in Manhattan.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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