"I've been thrilled with the program and the experiences my children have had," says Misty Preece, president of the school's parent board, which advises Grimmer on a range of policies and procedures and organizes fund-raisers for the school. Preece's son Tanner attended Bernice Wright for two years before entering kindergarten; son Caleb is in his second of three years at the school. "My son looks forward to going every day," she says. "He comes home and tells me everything he did, and gets very excited about showing me his work, talking about activities with friends, his interaction with teachers. My first son was the same way." Preece likes the mix of free and organized time at the school. "It's not so structured that the kids feel pressured to be learning, but it's not a free-for-all the whole day," she says.
      One aspect of the program—commitment to outdoor play—has been well publicized by the Central New York media. "If it's snowing and 30 degrees outside our children are out there sledding and playing, because we believe large motor skill development is important and we can't wait until the summer months to do that," Grimmer says. "We want them to have that experience in their environment, which means bundling up in snow clothes every day and heading outside.
Assistant teachers Dayna Luftig '01, left, and Suzanne Iasillo '01 bundle children for their daily outdoor play time.
      "Student teachers have a harder time with that than the children," she says with a laugh. "We do have a weather policy; if it's below a certain temperature, we do not go out."
      The school has a high teacher-to-child ratio, Grimmer says. In addition to the head teachers and assistants, staff members from the Jowonio program for children with special needs work with all children in each classroom. And all parents take turns volunteering in their children's classes—they're known as "helping parents." "They're here to get an inside picture of what the day's like and to see their child in the classroom, but also to get to know the other children and teachers," Grimmer says. Many early childhood and day care settings don't offer as much adult-child interaction, she says, and research shows that such associations during the first five years of life affect the way a person builds relationships for the rest of his or her life. "Warm, positive, caring interactions between teachers and children are invaluable," she says.

As a teacher training site, the school has four graduate assistants working as head teachers. Three run morning sessions in each classroom, and the fourth handles an afternoon classroom of 3- and 4-year-olds. Their responsibilities include developing and implementing appropriate curricula, designing and maintaining a good classroom learning environment, evaluating children's development, supervising and mentoring undergraduate assistant teachers, teaming with early childhood consultants and therapists from Jowonio, and maintaining effective communication with parents. And they still have to find time to go to their own classes.
      Melissa Neal, a doctoral student in child and family studies with an emphasis on early childhood education, is in her second year as a head teacher. She works with 16 children Monday through Thursday mornings, then attends afternoon and evening classes. "I love the kids," she says during a rare break in her hectic schedule, "but there are times when it's stressful—being a student, not getting much sleep. You really need to have sleep."
With his gloves on, Eddie is ready for the playground.
      Neal arrives at the school between 7:30 and 8 a.m. She prepares materials for her assistants, who arrive at 8:30 to help get the classroom ready for the day. "Each week I plan the lesson for the following week, so the student teachers know what has to be set up," she says. At 9 a.m. children begin to trickle in. "From 9 to 10:15 is free play, when children choose their own activities. We invite ourselves in to play with them for that first hour and 15 minutes. Then we have cleanup, and after that we have circle time in small groups." Circle time includes a look at the calendar and the weather, as well as answering the question of the day—usually something like, "Did you like the tractor at the farm?" Activities during this time are related to the week's lesson—simple addition or subtraction, reading stories, or playing games.
      At 10:45 a.m. the children break from their groups, wash their hands, and sit down for a snack. "We have helping parents come in each day, and they bring the snack for the day," Neal says. "It's a special day for the child because his or her mom or dad is with them the whole day." After snack time the children head outside to play until their parents pick them up at 11:30.

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