ATHENA — As schools prepare for another year, the Athena-Weston School District is set to welcome some new students through its doors this fall.
For the first time, the district has a preschool offering thanks to a $222,000 grant through the early learning division of the Oregon Department of Education. It allows 18 children ages 3 to 4 by Sept. 1 to attend free of charge. The grant was awarded July 3, so plenty of work is being done — everything from installing new carpet to ordering library sets — to be ready for the start of school.
“We are already accepting pre-applications for prequalifying families and we already have eight spots filled out of our 18,” Director of Early Learning and Student Services Kerri Coffman said. “It is free to our qualifying families and it is an awesome learning opportunity.”
Interested families can obtain an application by emailing email@example.com or stopping by the district office.
“We have children that come to us with no preschool experience at all, and this is an opportunity for equity and to level the playing field,” Superintendent Laure Quaresma said. “This gives the families who can’t afford to pay for private preschool an opportunity to also have a preschool experience.”
Children receive a quality learning and social environment where information is delivered through a variety of approaches.
The preschool will be housed at Weston Middle School, repurposing a kindergarten room that has its own entrance and exit.
“It is an ideal space for an early learning center,” Coffman said.
The demand was high for a preschool in a largely rural district.
“Through community forums, surveys and conversations, the need for a preschool was stated continuously because many of our families have foster children or are lower income,” Coffman said. “The fact is that we have so many communities, we are rural and we have some preschool opportunities through private practices, but don’t have enough to fill the need.”
The district is in the process of hiring a pair of positions — a certificated position and a classified position — while Coffman brings a wealth of experience working as the director of Head Start/ECEAP in Walla Walla, Washington, for seven years. The children will attend five days a week for five to six hours per day.
“It is an exciting advancement for the community, even in the midst of all of the coronavirus issues,” Quaresma said. “It just shows that we are moving forward in the best interest for the children in our community.”