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NORWALK, CT – Nearly 200 Norwalk youngsters have a unique new community preschool that offers early-childhood STEM curricula and family enrichment by utilizing the resources of The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk and Grace Baptist Church.
Maritime Odyssey Preschool officially opened this morning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the Nathaniel Ely School in South Norwalk. The school is a partnership between: Odyssey Early Learning, which is the lead educational provider; The Maritime Aquarium, which provides science-education content expertise; and Grace Baptist Church, which will host workshops for families on such topics as parent education and financial literacy.
School director Monisha Gibson welcomed parents, city officials, donors, church members and other guests who packed the school reception area for the ribbon-cutting and the unveiling of a colorful new mural of sea turtles, jellies and other marine animals.
“Using marine life and the Aquarium’s live animal collection, the intellectual capital of members of Grace Baptist Church to support families of the preschool, and the incredible educators at Odyssey Learning is undoubtedly a groundbreaking initiative that will result in high-quality early childhood services to children, families and the community,” said Gibson, former executive director of the Naramake (Elementary School) Family Resource Center.
Maritime Odyssey Preschool is one of Norwalk’s largest preschools, and nationally unique in its focus.
While The Maritime Aquarium is involved in the curricula of several area schools through its Whole School Partnerships, the new preschool is a step farther in integrating Aquarium programming into an entire school’s teachings. Aquarium educator Lauren Magliola is assigned to the preschool full-time, and will lead the development of a marine-themed STEM curriculum, train preschool teachers and work directly with students, both at the school and during their visits to the Aquarium.
“We are working to make the school a national model for early childhood STEM, and for how a science institution like The Maritime Aquarium can play a leading role,” said Tom Naiman, director of Education at The Maritime Aquarium.
(STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.)
Magliola has an office and science lab at Maritime Odyssey Preschool – the first time an Aquarium educator has been based within a school. She has sessions with the students every day, either in their classroom or in the science lab.
Students also will make regular field trips to the Aquarium, to visit exhibits and participate in educational programs.
The preschool’s focus is not just on the children. The families of all students receive a Maritime Aquarium Family Membership (valued at $170), which is good for free admission and IMAX® movies, and program discounts. In addition, the Aquarium is planning exclusive after-hours events for the preschool’s families.
The Rev. Dr. Lindsay E. Curtis said Grace Baptist Church’s goal is to enhance parental life-skills, thus enabling families to be better advocates in the education of their children. The congregation will offer workshops for parents on such topics as financial literacy, credit repair, writing resumes and other job skills, and basic reading skills for both English-speaking and non-English-speaking parents and guardians.
“Grace Baptist is 124 years old and sits in the heart of South Norwalk with a big heart for this community,” Pastor Curtis said. “Our aim is to ensure that our children and households are afforded all the tools for success – emotionally, educationally and spiritually. It is a natural fit and certainly not outside our comfort zone to be engaged in this 21st-century approach to early childhood education. We are continuously seeking ways to cooperate and join in partnership with others who seek to do the same, such as The Maritime Aquarium and the Odyssey Preschool.”
Maritime Odyssey Preschool welcomed its first students in early August for a phased opening. Currently, enrollment is about 170 children, from ages 14 months to 5 years, in 13 classrooms. Capacity is 195, and Gibson is giving tours to prospective parents every day.
It’s an all-day year-round school. Parents can enroll children for a weekday schedule of 8:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., or an extended day of 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Parents must commit to attend at least two parenting workshops at the school, in addition to the optional workshop opportunities offered by Grace Baptist Church. Tuition is based on a sliding scale.
Funding for the school comes from a $1.3 million school readiness grant from the state and a $479,000 Child Day Care program state grant.
Maritime Odyssey Preschool is at 11 Ingalls Ave. For more details about the school, call (475) 215-6100.