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Centennial Spotlight: Learning & Growing Through Play in our Pre-Primary Program

Centennial Spotlight: Learning & Growing Through Play in our Pre-Primary Program

Our Pre-Primary program is having a moment. Just like the children enrolled in the program, we woke up one morning and realized the program had grown even bigger and better than the day before.

The Pre-Primary program, which includes early childhood (18 months) through Pre-Kindergarten II/Montessori II, had record enrollment in 2022-23 with 162 students. Waiting lists have been established for the Early Childhood classrooms since 2018-19, and applications for fewer than 45 open spots exceeded 100 this past year. Inquiries for the program will exceed 175 for the next school year, and applications are rolling in 14 months prior to the start of the new school year, which is the earliest that applications can be submitted.

“We have a lot to offer in the Pre-Primary that draw people to our program,” says Kathi Bagnoli, director of the pre-primary program. “Country Day teachers go above and beyond, putting their whole heart into everything they do to support our students and community at large.”

Undoubtedly, students receive a rigorous and amazing academic education here at Country Day. However, our teachers are also committed to so much more: developing the whole child from character virtues to social-emotional skills.

This is what Kathi says Pre-Primary is all about – social-emotional learning. “Students here are learning how to be contributing and respectful community members. They learn to negotiate, take turns, plan, work together, be leaders, solve problems, and resolve conflicts. Children need to develop these skills before diving into deep academic learning in their later years.”

The Pre-Primary program is steeped in play- and project-based learning as a foundation of lifelong learning. Next school year, pre-primary students will participate in three specials as part of the core programming – swimming, music, and outdoor education. Students attending the full-day program will also have afternoon enrichment classes in world language, sign language, dramatic storytelling, movement, art, and social-emotional learning.

“Within the play- and project-based approach of our Pre-Primary program, children approach the world with their ideas, their language, their bodies, their teacher, and each other,” says Mark Morawski, head of Lower School. “So much learning comes through play, which promotes creativity, wonder, curiosity, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, well-being, and appropriate risk-taking – all skills essential for life.”

Kathi Bagnoli leads Country Play on Friday mornings, our parent-child program for children beginning at 12 months old, to give parents and children the opportunity to experience some of the components of the Pre-Primary program, including the Country Day community.

“We have a very diverse community,” says Bagnoli. “All the time, I hear from people that they wanted a diverse school, so they chose Country Day. We have wonderful families from all over the city and beyond, from all different backgrounds and cultures. It’s part of what makes Country Day special.”

While Early Childhood can now accommodate 48-60 students each year, Pre-Kindergarten and Montessori I and II have formed waiting lists in the past three years as well. Given the demand in Early Childhood and that most of those students progress through Pre-K and Montessori, there are now very few spaces available for new students entering Pre-K and Montessori. Only 9 of the 94 students in Pre-K and Montessori in the 2023-24 school year are new students to Country Day. But new students or not, students are celebrated throughout their years at Country Day.

“While I know it sounds cliché, our teachers really do know and nurture their students and have connections with families – not just while they’re in the pre-primary program but throughout the years.”