Preschool caters to all abilities

Aaron Dean, 4, likes to play with beads and do puzzles.

Ava Petrikas, 4, likes to learn her numbers and go outside and play on the swings in the school's fenced-in playground.

At Schonowe Preschool, teachers and staff promote learning in a colorful, hands-on environment.

The typical classroom is filled with multicolored alphabet posters, stuffed animals, calendars and books.

That same classroom in the Giffords Church Road school is also made up of special needs students and typically developing peers.

John McQueen, the school's director since 1996, said that integration in the classroom leads to better understanding in children. He said that many classmates look to their peers as role models.

The integrative piece creates empathy in our non-special needs children, said McQueen.

The 180-child school provides three separate programs for children ages 1 to 5.

The school, which has operated in Rotterdam for more than 20 years, has a robust special needs program, a nursery school called the Alphabet Soup Early Learning Center and a state licensed daycare program.

McQueen said the school's special education component is funded by Schenectady County and state grants. The nursery school and daycare classes are funded by parents.

Each classroom is staffed with a special education teacher and two educational assistants. Some classrooms also have a nursery school teacher. Social workers, speech therapists, physical therapists and occupational therapists are also on staff. McQueen said the school has a staff of 65 full- and part-time employees.

And outside of the classroom, students can use the building's gym, staffed by physical and occupational therapists.

"We have some students with gross and fine motor deficiencies," said Chris Cutting, the school's social worker. "In the gym we strengthen the core of their bodies and try to get the kids ready for school as best we can when they come of age."

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