This story is the second in a series about public preschool that will also examine Head Start, preschool solutions found in other countries, the condition of preschool teachers and the political future of preschool. The first story, about how little the U.S. invests in young children, can be found here.
BOSTON—On the ground floor of Russell Elementary School in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston one February morning, three teachers supervised 20 students in what is considered one of the best free, public preschool programs in the country.
Sitting on a bright rug in a cozy classroom, 4- and 5-year-old students discussed how the letter M looks a lot like the letter W. Judging by their looks of concentration, this was a tricky point. Having established, with the help of Mary Bolt, the lead teacher, that their classmate Mario’s name contained an M, but not a W, they moved on to clapping once for each syllable in classmate Avah’s name and then counting the letters (four) and giving her a rousing cheer (Gimme an A! Gimme a V! Gimme an A! Gimme an H! What’s that spell? Avah!).
Next, it was free-play time. Students scattered to different areas of the room to create capes out of donated fabric in the art section, build the city of Boston out of blocks in the block section, illustrate their own books in the writing section, sketch some yellow daffodils in the science section, and play house in the make-believe section.
“Where is the ice cream?” one little girl asked, moving her father doll through every room of a toy house looking for the treat. Alas, there was no ice cream to be had, so the little girl had the father doll come up with a new plan: “Let’s go to the supermarket!”