Susana and Marcel Casillas traveled forty-five minutes from their Washington Heights apartment to take 4-year-old Marcel Jr. to his first day of prekindergarten at Amber Charter School in East Harlem.
“He loved it and can’t wait to come back to school on Monday,” his dad said. Little Marcel wasn’t saying much, but he followed his older brother Kevin, who was in a much smaller pre-K program last year, and is now in kindergarden at Amber. “It really helped Kelvin learn a lot. He is much more ready for school now,” Marcel said.
Susana speaks limited English, but she told ConsumerMojo that a friend introduced her to the school and it was her first choice for both children. Marcel Jr. is particularly lucky. There are only about 200 pre-K seats in charter schools.
To fulfill Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign pledge to provide full-time pre-K for every four-year-old in the city, New York needed to create about 50,000 spots for children citywide. It partnered with religious schools, community groups and charters to make it happen.
After the first day of school, the Casillas family stood outside Amber Charter on 106th Street and waited hoping to get a glimpse of Mayor de Blasio after he visited the school and talked with reporters. The Casillas, like other NYC parents, embrace pre-K and are thankful to the mayor for expanding it. They think it will make a significant difference in their children’s educations.
Melissa Rivera agrees with him. We met her on the subway after school. Her son Izarean Beltran was fast asleep after his first day at pre-K at P.S. 197 in Manhattan. Melissa really pushed for Izarean to get in. His fourth birthday isn’t until October and he made it under the wire. “I wanted him to learn. I didn’t want him to sit at home and do nothing, or just play all day,” she said.
Last year, her daughter Leanna Rivera, who is now in kindergarten at P.S.197, missed out. “I couldn’t get her into pre-K and I wished that I could have,” she said. “I thank Mayor de Blasio for opening up more spots this year. ”
Mayor de Blasio, his wife Chirlane McCray and schools Chancellor Carmen Farina spent the day touring schools in every borough and welcoming kids in the pre-K program as well as children in other grades.
In a morning meet and greet at Sacred Heart School on Staten Island, the group was joined by Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Mayor de Blasio thanked the cardinal for opening over 3,000 seats in Catholic schools for pre-K students. He also talked about his own children and the importance of pre-K for them and others.
The mayor said, “I remember deeply the day we brought Chiara to pre-K for the first time, the day we brought Dante to pre-K for the first time. What happened, literally within weeks, is you could see them growing before your eyes – a vocabulary, alphabet, numbers, colors – everything started to move in the right direction. And we saw with our children that full-day pre-K gave them that strong foundation and really propelled them forward through everything else that came after. We’re blessed to have two wonderful children who do great in school, who are focused and committed to their future. I don’t think there’s any accident here. I think they had the strong foundation they needed. So, I believe fundamentally that what we’re doing today will be felt in this city – not only a decade from now, two decades from now, three decades from now – as we have more kids graduating high school on time, more kids getting into college, more kids going to work productively, more kids with the skills they need for the 21st century economy.”
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