Two preschool students work on art. One girl has pink stickers.

For the past five years, Bellingham Public Schools has offered an inclusive preschool program at Alderwood and Cordata elementary schools. The program includes opportunities for typically developing children and children with developmental delays or disabilities.

“We want to invest in early learning at the preschool level and really provide more inclusive opportunities for children with and without disabilities. That’s the overall goal,” said assistant director of early childhood and family engagement Dr. Debora Haney. “My dream would be that we have preschool in every elementary school.”

Developmental preschool is currently available at Birchwood, Geneva, Happy Valley, Northern Heights and Sunnyland elementary schools and also Sehome High School. The combined Title I/developmental preschool program is only offered at Alderwood and Cordata elementary schools. The program is funded by a combination of Title I and Special Education dollars.

Cordata preschool teacher Marta Madden said having an inclusive classroom helps develop students who become role models and can connect socially and emotionally with their peers.

“All my preschoolers are thoughtful, kind, enthusiastic and come to school ready to explore,” said Madden. “At this young age they do not see differences, they only see a friend.”

Madden has been at Cordata Elementary since the preschool program began there. The preschool programs support a child’s learning through active play, exploration, strong relationships and consistency in their daily routines. The preschool environments are safe, inclusive, and promote peer and adult interactions. Children are engaged in activities that support the development of social, adaptive, communication, cognitive and motor skills, which are the foundations for future learning.

In our preschools families are valued as the child’s first teacher. Teachers collaborate with families to develop a two-way partnership to support the growth and development of their child at home and in school.

“I feel truly blessed and honored to customize my teaching to fit the diverse abilities of learning,” Madden said. “All my preschoolers learn differently, each have unique strengths and needs, I feel qualified to support their learning.”

Bellingham Public Schools plans to continue its investment in early learning and to expand the inclusive preschool programs to other schools in the future.

Families interested in seeing if their child qualifies for developmental preschool can request a screening from Special Education. The district participates in “child find” – awareness and screening activities for the purpose of locating, identifying and evaluating children who are suspected of having disabilities and who may be in need of Special Education services.

The Title I preschools at Alderwood and Cordata elementary schools are only available for children who live in those school attendance areas. Families can apply for the program through the school websites.

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