On February 8, a large crowd gathered for the Orange-Ulster BOCES Cooperative Board’s regular business meeting, held in in the Onken Conference Center in Goshen. The crowd, consisting of high school students, teachers and former students of the Little Dreamers preschool, was protesting the potential closure of the preschool program.
Little Dreamers is part of BOCES’ Career and Technical Education Center (CTE), which houses an education academy to give high schoolers real-world education experience.
“We provide hands-on learning to the community,” said Ava Smith, a student of the program.
However, upcoming changes to the program prompted many of its supporters to come out and share their views with the board. A “refresh of [the] curriculum to meet increasing demands in the field of education,” as described by BOCES, is intended to start this fall. Those who attended the Thursday meeting expressed concern that this “refresh” would eliminate the in-house preschool, and with it the many benefits of the program — not only to the students who gain first-hand knowledge of a classroom setting, but also to the many families who use the preschool for childcare. According to BOCES, students may also earn college credit for its education programs, depending on the college.
Before the meeting, protesters lined up outside the building. Some carried signs against the potential change. “Hands on experience is the best way to learn,” read one sign.
Once the meeting began, the board allowed the public to address them for three minutes each. Many speakers expressed intense emotions while discussing their concerns. The first speaker started crying during her speech. Another speaker not only apologized before her speech for future crying, but started crying within less than a minute. “I take great pride in my program,” she said. A different speaker mentioned recommending the program to her neighbor’s daughter who “absolutely loves it.”
“I am responsible for the education of children that we all form bonds with. My everyday teenage struggles can be set aside when I am in that preschool,” said Sarah Kleveno, a student at Little Dreamers. She formed close relationships with her students throughout her time in the program.
“If you can teach three-year-olds, you can teach anyone,” said another former student of the preschool.
CTE will still provide students with opportunities for educational training. According to the BOCES website, “Students will have the opportunity to work with students in educational settings with general education and special education from pre-K through grade 12.” This new program will allow students to experience classes of different grades beyond preschool. “Additionally, students will have exposure to related careers such as speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, social work and school counseling,” read the website. Particpating students will also continue to earn college credits.
The board thanked every speaker after they finished and told the public a decision would happen at a future date.