Fifty-five years after opening its doors with just eight classrooms, the St. Jerome School in Westchester is adding a pre-kindergarten to its current lineup.

Today, the school has 300 students enrolled from kindergarten through eighth grade, and this fall — 34 years after a kindergarten classroom was added — a pre-kindergarten classroom is coming to the school.

“We’ve been looking at the idea for a while and we finally decided to take the plunge,” said Sister Donna Anne Bachman, St. Jerome School principal. “I think it’s going to be cute to have those little bodies running around.”

St. Jerome will be “the only one with this [Catholic pre-kindergarten] program” in the Playa del Rey/Westchester area, said vice principal Rick Billups.

“The program’s goal is to prepare children for kindergarten by providing an introduction to academics and socialization within a safe Christian environment,” said Billups.

The pre-kindergarten program, which is already accepting applications, will have its own classroom as well as its very own playground, as required by safety regulations.

And it will have two options for enrollment — a “full-day” pre-kindergarten class from 7:55 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7:55 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Fridays, or a “half-day” program from 7:55 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.

The school is planning for about 15 to 18 pre-kindergartners for the first year, but will “grow as time goes on,” said Bachman.

Enrollment will be limited to students who will be four years old prior to December 1st.

Rosa Aguayo, whose own children attend St. Jerome, will be teaching the class.

“That’s because I saw what she was able to do with the kids,” said Bachman of Aguayo. “She’s a very creative person and is also very dependable.”

“I’m really excited,” said Aguayo. “I love working with this age group. The kids are so inquisitive, the questions they ask, too. The energy they have — it’s overwhelming. I really enjoy them.”

The decision to start a pre-kindergarten at St. Jerome was easy for school officials to make, even though the application process has been a rigorous one.

Bachman said there’s a need for pre-kindergartens in the Catholic environment, and that St. Jerome has the space for a program.

“I think our school is in a unique place,” said Bachman. “We’re back away from business. A lot of people didn’t even know our school was here [until they drove by].”

She also said that the location is safe and the school provides a “caring, supportive environment.”

“There’s a sense of community,” said Bachman. “Our space and our environment are very conducive to be able to open a pre-kindergarten.”

The Hannon Foundation just granted St. Jerome School $100,000 to assist in the foundation, opening and support of the school’s pre-kindergarten, Billups said.

The pre-kindergarten will be a full curriculum “with academics as well as social skills, motor skills and religion,” Bachman said.

Aguayo stressed the importance of pre-kindergartners learning “social skills and being able to share and take turns.”

“It should be a happy, exciting time to learn how to be together,” said Bachman, who added that there will be a “good balance” between social skills and academics.

The academics will be in the morning, and there will be a lot of hands-on activities, outdoor activities, music and art, said Aguayo.

Aguayo also said that the pre-kindergarten program will have a library, storytelling time, dramatic play, a listening center, a discovery center and exposure to writing tools such as crayons, paper and computers.

Bachman said she’s looking forward to watching the kids grow from little pre-kindergartners into teenagers before they go off to high school, as she’s been able to do the past 11 years she’s worked at St. Jerome.

“That’s a real treat to me,” she said. “It’s really rewarding.”

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