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Va. Preschool Initiative for at-risk kids is held at Patriot High for six elementary schools

The classrooms at Patriot High School are filled with students in their teenage years; however, in one corner of the school, the sounds of delight and laughter fill the classroom from four-year-olds.  They are part of the Virginia Preschool Initiative program.

The VPI program is housed at PHS. Melissa Van Wassen, the class’s teacher explained the mission, “Virginia Preschool Initiative is a comprehensive preschool program established to provide a foundation for learning and academic success for at-risk four-year-olds. School-readiness activities focus on phonological awareness, vocabulary, number sense and physical, motor and social development to prepare children to be life-long learners.”

Funded by both the Commonwealth of Virginia and PWC, the free program began in 2011. There are two sessions each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In addition to the academics, the VPI program provides bus transportation and either breakfast or lunch for the children.  The children who attend come from six different elementary school zones in the community.  The morning class serves children who live in the Nokesville, Cedar Point and T. Clay Wood elementary school zones, and the afternoon class serves families who live in Bristow Run, Victory and Piney Branch elementary school zones.

Students who live in one of the six zones who qualify for free or reduced meals and will be four years old by Sept. 30 of the upcoming school years are eligible to register in the spring.

The teacher-to-student ratio in the class is one to nine.  Van Wassen has a Master’s of Education and has worked with Head Start and VPI for nine years. The teacher assistant, Susan Denham has a Bachelor of Education and has worked in early childhood for 12 years.

Van Wassen explained a typical school day for the children, “The Patriot VPI has a morning and afternoon class which operates Monday through Friday from 8:30-11:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.  The daily schedule is set up, using the high scope curriculum, which includes an opening circle, breakfast, a.m. class, or lunch, p.m. class, planning and work time centers, large group literacy, small group activity, literacy groups and closing circle. 

“The classroom environment uses conscious discipline through routines, rituals and structures, which promotes a school family atmosphere where children feel safe and loved.  High scope and conscious discipline allow the teacher to focus on the child as a whole, integrating academic based activities as well as focusing on social, emotional and cognitive learning.”

This unique program benefits the high school students as well.  “The reason the VPI program is located at PHS is to provide hands-on experiences for the high school students who are taking the Early Childhood Education classes.

“ECE, a high school program, provides students with a two-year course sequence, ECE I and ECE II, in early childhood education that consists of field experiences and practical learning experiences, working with the preschool students in our VPI program. 

“ECE students in the dual enrollment program graduate with nine credit hours that transfer to any Virginia college or university. 

“The high school students interact with the preschool children, lesson plan, provide activities for large and small group instruction and ultimately learn to take on the role as a teacher and teacher assistant in a preschool classroom,” said Van Wassen.

The VPI program also has an open door policy for parents of the students, and they are encouraged to volunteer. Some come in weekly, and others assist during field trips or celebrations in the class.

A parent shared, “VPI is a great school and opportunity for my daughter to learn the importance of school, more so, being an everyday program rather than the usual three or four times a week. VPI is preparing my daughter for grade school. Unlike some preschools, they have lunch daily and are learning to try new foods. It is very convenient that they provide transportation. The teachers are absolutely wonderful, and you can rest assured your child is in great care. My daughter loves learning and comes home thrilled to share how her day was. My husband and I are thankful to have found this school and would highly recommend it. It’s a chance for your child to excel and be ready for life as an elementary student.”

Another parent, Maria Sharieff, said, “Mrs. Van Wassen and Mrs. Denham are truly dedicated to our children’s needs. The teachers have provided us with detailed guidance from the enrollment to the present.  They also have provided us with resources to make use of in school as well as out of school.  By volunteering, I have seen the high standards, professionalism and one-on-one attention to our child’s needs.  It is giving him a head start to education and equal opportunity. Without this opportunity given to us, my son would not have had the opportunity to early education due to limited resources. I would highly recommend this program.”

Denham shared what is important to her about assisting in the program, “I enjoy helping to build a solid foundation of learning in all of our children. What we endeavor to instill in our kids is a lifelong enjoyment of learning. Someone once said, ‘Everything I needed to know in life I learned in kindergarten’. The same holds true for Pre-K (VPI).”

Van Wassen added, “I truly believe the children in our program are provided with the skills and experiences necessary to prepare them to be successful in kindergarten and ultimately life-long learners.  All the students in the VPI program attend kindergarten the following year, and I believe they are better prepared and provided with the skills that will benefit them in kindergarten.”

The VPI program at Patriot High is currently registering children for the 2014-2015 school year. Families can contact Van Wassen at 703-594-3020 or at her email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to determine qualifications and set up registration.

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