Lifestyle

Meredith Hill Elementary preschool blends typical and special needs

When Robin McLarty began looking into preschool options for her daughter about seven years ago, the search stopped a few blocks from her home — at Meredith Hill Elementary.

“I was looking for a preschool that was in an elementary because I priced it out as far as convenience and everything,” McLarty said. “It’s four days a week, and most preschools are only two days a week, and it was cheaper.”

Another motivating factor for McLarty was that her child would participate in the same activities as other elementary students such as physical education, field trips, library time and music. She has since sent all three of her children through the preschool program at Meredith Hill.

“It prepares them very well for kindergarten,” she said. “They know exactly what the expectations are of them when they begin kindergarten.”

McLarty’s children served as peer models in the preschool program for special needs children at Meredith Hill. The program is called an integrated classroom, and there are 10 typically developing students who attend class with six special needs students. The district also has classrooms that include eight special needs children with two or three peer models.

All students participating in the program benefit, said Julie Hunt, preschool program manager for the Federal Way School District. Special needs children watch the other students and learn such behavior as sitting the proper way in a circle. Typically developing students learn acceptance and compassion, plus get the opportunity to teach and learn to act as leaders.

McLarty’s children haven’t been held back by attending classes with special needs children.

“The teachers are really great and they work really good with all of the kids, no matter if they’re peer models or special needs kids, they know how to work with them,” she said.

McLarty said she is happy her children learned through the program to accept people who are different from them.

“My kids could see that kids that are mentally challenged or special needs are still like them,” she said. “There are kids that are different from them, but still the same.”

Although it is not required in Federal Way, Hunt recommends some type of preschool for all children before entering kindergarten.

“We are developing the foundations of academics, but our focus is social, building appropriate peer interaction and social skills,” she said of the Federal Way School District’s preschool program.

What might look like play to some is actually a preschool child’s work, Hunt said.

“For a three- to five-year-old, when you’re playing with blocks, you’re really starting the foundations of math skills,” she said. “When you are doing something with art, you’re building creativity.”

Children who participate in preschool are better prepared when it comes time to enter kindergarten and focus more strongly on academics, Hunt said. “Anything that helps get the child kindergarten-ready is an advantage for the student.”

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The Federal Way School District has openings for peer models in several special needs preschool programs. Peer models are typically-developing preschool students ages 3 to 5 years old.

Openings are available at Camelot, Meredith Hill, Rainier View, Twin Lakes and Wildwood elementary schools. Preschool is held Monday through Thursday, for 2 hours and 45 minutes per session. Tuition is $190 a month, and there is a $25 registration fee. Parents must provide transportation to and from the school.

Enrollment is accepted throughout the year. The child is not required to be potty trained.

For more information, contact the school or Julie Hunt, Preschool Program Manager at (253) 945-4580 or jhunt@fwps.org.

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