A bright, spacious room in in Morris Plains seems too large for four rambunctious little boys but there will be more pupils in the pre-school program next year.
Morris Plains has had a special-needs pre-school program for several years but next year will bring in mainstream students, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ernest Palestis said.
Jennifer Simms teaches the current pre-school and will take over the integrated class in September. She said she is anticipating about 15 pupils next year.
Simms said it won’t be a problem to mix children with special needs with mainstream students because of the curriculum used.
The School of the Mind curriculum is based on self-regulation and make believe play but it is organized into different academic elements.
Holding up a color-coded wheel, Simms said each color represents an academic area. A clothespin painted in the corresponding color can be taken to the academic area. The children also used color-coded markers to draw a picture of themselves and what they are going to use in the academic area.
The six areas are literary, art, science, table toys, blocks and dramatic play. The areas of the room are also coded in the corresponding colors.
When they are engaged in dramatic play, they have props and role playing cards to help them stay in character, Simms said.
“It is truly integrated,” Simms said. “There is a lot of working in pairs. For a lot of activities we pair children with their opposites. We also have ‘buddy reading’.”
“I had input into the creation of the program,” Simms said. She said she spoke to Palestis, Lindsay Nahm, Mountain Way School principal and the child study team.
Simms will have an aide to assist her, she said. In addition, the children have speech, occupational and physical therapy available if required. They also get gym and library periods.
A little more technology will also be a help. “We now have three student computers, but we are getting more equipment over the summer.” More tables and chairs are also coming, plus more cubbies and lots more supplies.
The pre-school runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. that seems like a long day, Simms admitted, but she said they have a one and one-half hour break in the middle of the day for recess, lunch and nap.. “They rest, but they don’t nap,” she said.
“There’s a lot of movement between each activity,” Simms said. The pre-school has its own gated playground with a sandbox and a jungle gym and the children have access to the larger playground at the rear of the school.
They children ride a separate bus from the older children. They start later to avoid crowds because Simms has to get on the bus to help the kids buckle or unbuckle.
Simms taught at borough school for two years. She was a psychology and elementary education major at the College of St. Elizabeth’s with a minor in special education and a concentration in early childhood. She is certified in three areas, including pre-school and special needs. At borough school, she provided in-class support, so she is used to working with students at different levels at the same time.
Simms made it clear she is looking forward to a room full of 3- and 4-year olds in the fall.