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Riverhead school district gets $600K grant to help boost its UPK program

Riverhead Central School District was awarded a $600,000 universal prekindergarten expansion grant by the New York State Education Department last week.

The competitive grant will allow the district to provide 60 additional full-time seats in the universal pre-K program, according to assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Christine Tona.

“We recognize that students could use additional support before starting kindergarten and we’re confident that this additional program will help meet some of those needs,” she said.

The district expects a lot of interest in the new program and will be holding a lottery to fill those seats.

“We anticipate more than 60 people being interested in a full-day program and so we would have to put a lottery in place to provide for those 60 seats,” Ms. Tona said.

Currently, part time pre-K students are attending various locations for their education: Phillips Avenue through SCOPE, St. David’s School and Childcare, Headstart in Riverhead and Southampton and Alternatives for Children in Aquebogue.

For the full-time program, the district is still deciding on locations and hopes to have a decision by February when registration opens.

“We’re deciding on locations in the next month or so,” Ms. Tona said. “So that when registration for universal pre-K begins this winter, the community will know exactly what the locations are.”

Ms. Tona said the district is hoping to keep the program functioning internally.

“We would look internally first, to see if we have the space to handle this internally within a district and, if not, we would look outside,” she said.

This is the first time the district has received this kind of grant towards a full-time universal pre-K program, according to Ms. Tona.

District Superintendent Dr. Augustine Tornatore expressed how excited the district is to be able to offer more opportunities to students in Riverhead.

“The district is truly excited to be named a recipient of the Prekindergarten Expansion Grant,” he said in a press release. “Through this grant, the district will be able to effectively expand our pre-K program and provide opportunities to more students in the Riverhead community.”

The expansion will be in place in September for the 2022-2023 school year, Ms. Tona said.