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December 10. 2012 7:06PM

Kindergarten returning to private Merrimack school

MERRIMACK - A private kindergarten program that ended this year will resume next fall, according to a new school administrator who is thrilled about the reopening.

"We are really excited about this announcement," said Michelle Desmarais, director of Merrimack PTA Preschool, a private, nonprofit organization offering preschool classes for 3- and 4-year-olds throughout southern New Hampshire. Under previous leadership, the school decided to end its kindergarten program for the current school year because of financial reasons and a decline in enrollment.

Desmarais, who took over as director when Patti Sexton left at the end of the 2011-2012 school year, said several parents have since expressed interest in restoring the kindergarten program.

"We are now working with the previous kindergarten teacher to restructure the program to better fit the needs of our students and their families," said Desmarais, whose own son was a member of the last graduating kindergarten class.

Merrimack PTA was formed in 1961 under the direction of the Parent Teachers Association of the Merrimack School District, although it now operates as an independent, private school. There are currently 34 preschool students enrolled, ranging in age from 3 to 5. There were 10 kindergarten students last year, according to Desmarais, who explained that before public kindergarten was offered in Merrimack, there were about 48 kindergarten students attending. In order to run a successful kindergarten program, Desmarais said she will need at least eight kindergarten students to be enrolled next year. So far, she has a commitment from five in-house students, and interest from three other parents with children already enrolled at the school.

"We have had such an outpouring of support over the summer with people trying to get this program kick-started again," said Desmarais. "I fought very hard to keep the school open and viable."

The private kindergarten program will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, and students will bring their lunch to school. This provides another option for parents, as the public school system offers 2 hours of instruction, and the Merrimack PTA kindergarten program provides four hours of classroom time, she explained. The longer session allows for more math, language, science, social studies, art and music offerings, along with additional playtime, said Desmarais. Cost is $350 a month, or $3,500 a year for kindergarten students.

Two teachers are currently enrolled at the school -- located in a two-room schoolhouse at 10 Depot St. -- and a kindergarten teacher will be added to the payroll next fall. The administration is hoping to employ Doreen Bateson, the former kindergarten teacher, although that has not been finalized, according to Desmarais.

"This is such a wonderful environment here, and it benefited my son so much. I think he would have been lost if I sent him to public kindergarten," she said. "This is a different option for parents, which worked really well for my family."

Open enrollment for preschool and kindergarten programs at Merrimack PTA begins Jan. 11. Call-in registration will take place from 9 to 11 a.m. on Jan. 11 by calling 424-3535. Enrollment is not limited to Merrimack students, as children from Manchester and Nashua are currently attending the school.

khoughton@newstote.com


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