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Ayer Childcare Program stresses importance of the earliest years


Cap for Ayer Preschool:

Vincent DeFoe sits in the lap of his teacher, Leslie Rice, at

the Ayer public school preschool.

AYER — Pat Russell came to the Ayer public schools in 1996 and became the director of the Ayer Childcare Program (ACP) and Preschool in 1999.

Russell studied at the University of Southern Illinois and received her degree in Elementary Administration from Madison University.

ACP is located in the Hilltop portion of the Page Hilltop School in Ayer, and educates approximately 90 children in its preschool and prekindergarten classes. Russell leads the administration of ACP, and the preschool, with the help of Amanda Lewis and Sarah Gibbons.

Those 90 children are nurtured and taught within the secure environment of the Page Hilltop walls. Russell believes preschool is a crucial component of a child’s development.

“I feel that it is important for children to attend preschool because it provides the foundation for success in life,” Russell said. “Research has determined that the first five years of a child’s life are the most formative and an early-childhood program provides children with the physical, emotional, social and cognitive growth that is essential to be successful.” Russell also works hard, with her staff, to provide the feeling to children that their school is a safe and secure place, and that learning is fun.

“One significant difference between the Ayer public preschool and other preschools is that we are a School of the 21st Century and are partnered with the Yale Bush Center,” Russell said. Being designated a “School of the 21st Century” means that you are school-based and provide a strong link between families, the school and the community. This begins at birth. When an infant is born, they can receive services and support through the Family Partnership Center at Page Hilltop. Then, as they grow, they benefit from the preschool, and then the elementary school. Russell added, “The Ayer Public Schools proudly support this philosophy and can definitely be identified as a ‘Family-Friendly School’.”

The Family Partnership Center is involved in the support of the Ayer public preschool in other ways as well. The FPC has created a “preschool council” to allow the area preschools to work towards the common goal of providing “high-quality early childhood education to all of the families in our community.” The FPC also provides training opportunities, workshops for staff and families, referral services and general support.

ACP is currently seeking reaccreditation for the third time by the National Academy of Education for Young Children (NAEYC). Accreditation is a voluntary process that recognizes excellence and high standards for early childhood programs. Most of the teachers, who work hard to provide a quality educational experience for Ayer’s youth, have been with the program for six to ten years.

Anne Lee Ellis, who used to own her own preschool, has taught preschool for ACP for six years, and believes the most important part of preschool is “socialization and learning how to get along and share.” Ellis instructs 4-year–olds on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, 3-year-olds on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and works in the extended day program as well.

Leslie Rice has taught for the Ayer public schools in many different capacities. She has taught third grade, kindergarten, and currently teaches preschool five mornings a week. When asked why she likes preschool, she said, “I love this age. They are a lot of fun. I love enabling the students to learn through exploration and to watch them develop their blossoming socialization skills.” Russell, Ellis and Rice, along with the entire preschool staff, “have a true and genuine commitment to children and their families and will strive to meet their needs in a trusting and meaningful manner,” Russell said.