Ballarat Specialist School will be able to help more children at a younger age with a $1.3 million expansion of their kindergarten program.
Their early learning centre's three year old and four year old kinder programs will be extended, taking pressure off the ever-present waiting list according to the school's acting principal Sam Sheppard.
"We will be able to increase our cap by 150 per cent and offer three-year-old funded kinder," he said. "At the moment families have to pay to attend three-year-old kinder so this expansion will allow more students the opportunity to start earlier.
"The opportunity to access early education is important for all children, but particularly for children with additional needs.
Mr Sheppard said the Ballarat Specialist School kinder ran as a community kindergarten for children of all abilities.
"We are open to all kinder-age students but because of where we are positioned we tend to get students with additional needs, but we are a community kinder and with additional places will be able to have an inclusive environment with other students who go on to mainstream schools," he said.
The kinder program currently has 16 pupils, with 12 attending per day to get in the mandated 15 hour program.
The extension means they will be able to offer 12 positions a day in two programs, increasing its enrolment to 40 children and increase the three-year-old program from 2.5 hours to 15 hours per week.
Since the specialist school's kinder program began nine years ago, Mr Sheppard said staff had seen a big change in how their prep children transition to school.
We're providing $13.3M for 10 more early childhood projects across Victoria, creating 561 more funded kinder places. These are targeted investments to ensure young children across VIC can access and enjoy 3YO Kinder from 2022. #EducationState#springsthttps://t.co/Kh1C9i6cLEpic.twitter.com/yviEULPXe4— Ingrid Stitt MP #StaySafe (@IngridStitt) September 2, 2021
"Sometimes preps come in and they haven't done any kinder and it can take three to six months to just support the handover in the morning," he said.
"This is a journey for kids and their families, to support the family in sometimes leaving their child with another adult for the first time in their lives, and an earlier opportunity to build resilience in the child and show the family someone outside of the family can provide the care they need ... to help break down anxiety around separation which can be huge for our families."
Mr Sheppard said the routine, structure and support provided by the kindergarten allowed children to come in and learn at their own pace, with the kinder following the same framework as others across the state.
He said demand was definitely increasing for kinder places at the Ballarat Specialist School, with extra needs identified at an earlier age in many children, NDIS assistance, and more children in crisis identified through the child protection system.
IN OTHER NEWS
The $1.3 million Building Blocks capacity grant for the Ballarat Specialist Kinder was one of 10 grants totalling $13.3 million given by the state government and comes on top of $10 million announced by the state last year to upgrade and modernise the Ballarat Specialist School, including providing additional permanent buildings.
Mr Sheppard said he was unsure of the timeline of the kindergarten works but was hopeful it would be ready to welcome students in 2023.
This $1.3 million Building Blocks grant is great news for our littlest learners who will now be able to access 15 hours of three-year-old kinder at the Ballarat Specialist School," said Wendouree MP Juliana Addison.
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