CAMARILLO : Preschool Program Outgrows Facilities

A popular Camarillo program designed to help preschool children who are slow developing language and motor skills is expanding so fast that it has outgrown its facilities, Pleasant Valley School District officials said.

The preschool program, which began with 11 students and an $11,000 grant in 1987, has grown fivefold, forcing the program out of a shared classroom at Camarillo Heights School and into temporary quarters at Los Nogales School.

Because of overcrowding throughout the district, the program has no

classroom of its own and will be forced to move into a portable bungalow without toilets or running water next year.

Fifty-two students now are enrolled in the preschool program, 60 are expected to have enrolled by fall, and 70 are expected by the end of the 1992-1993 school year, said Pam Lenk, a preschool specialist who works part time with the program.

"We're going to run out of time and space if we find more kids," Lenk said.

To qualify for the program, children must be 3 to 5 years of age and judged to be 25% behind other children of their age in language and motor skills, such as those needed to ride a bicycle or stack blocks, Cathy Cartwright, the program's director, said.

"This is supposed to help kids catch up before they get to kindergarten," Lenk said.

But President Bush's emphasis on early intervention has spurred an expansion of eligibility criteria, allowing more children to qualify for the program.

As a result, the program, one of six in Ventura County, is expected to continue to grow.

This year, the program is scheduled to receive $97,906 in federal grant funds, Cartwright said. She said she has so far received only $81,267 and is unsure whether she will receive the rest of the money.

Without the rest of the funds, Cartwright said she might not be able to double the number of hours that Lenk works in the classroom, enabling instructors to continue working with children in small groups.

At present, preschool specialist Bobbi Koenigsberger is the program's only full-time teacher.

One recent morning, Koenigsberger led a group of four 4-year-old boys in a rendition of "The Eensy Weensy Spider," having the boys sway and move their arms in time. The songs help teach students about the rhythm of speech, Koenigsberger said, an essential element of language that comes more naturally to most preschool children.

Cartwright has suggested that the program's new portable classroom be placed next to a kindergarten classroom at Los Nogales School next year. That way, she said, the preschool children could share the bathrooms with the kindergarten class.

The final decision on where to put the portable classroom will be left to the Pleasant Valley trustees, who are deliberating about how to handle overcrowding throughout the district.

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