Stafford’s Oxycocus School Receives Expansion Aid Grant From State

Oct 31, 2018

Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Department of Education, not only was the Stafford Township School District’s Oxycocus School able to add more classrooms and bring in more students this year, it was able to offer all its pre-kindergarteners a full five days of instruction at no cost to their parents or guardians.

Earlier this month, the Oxycocus School received a Preschool Education Expansion Aid grant in the amount of $1,245,471. Superintendent George Chidiac announced to the district in late August that the funds would be coming, and Oxycocus director Bill Wilkinson confirmed their Oct. 1 arrival several weeks ago.

“This grant allowed us to do a lot and give back to the parents who trust us to give their children a quality education,” Chidiac said. “With this funding, we were able to provide more students the opportunity to attend our preschool, while creating a better learning environment for all our students.”

Wilkinson explained that the grant affects only general education students, not special education students – that anything related to special education is administered and funded in a whole different way, in accordance with state regulations.

While the school houses seven special education classrooms for about 65 students, Wilkinson said Oxycocus increased its number of general education classrooms from six to nine and enrolled for this school year 117 students.

“With the addition of three classrooms for general education, we effectively reduced our class sizes from 20 students to 15 students,” he said. “Once we knew we were getting the funding, we enrolled some additional students just before the school year began, but not too many. Most of our 117 general education students were already enrolled, but the grant gave us more flexibility with class sizes.”

Wilkinson also explained that Oxycocus now offers a full five days of instruction for its 3- and 4-year-old students.

“We used to have two three-day programs,” he said. “Some students were here Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and others were here Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Now, they’re all here five days a week, and it’s absolutely a benefit to them to be able to be here for a full five days. It just gives them more opportunities to learn, and that’s always a good thing.”

As for the approximately $6,300 per year to attend Oxycocus – along with the related transportation costs to bus the students to school every day – it’s all covered by the PEEA grant. Chidiac said tuition refunds have been doled out this month.

According to the NJDOE website, the program began when it announced in December 2014 that New Jersey was selected to receive a federal grant to provide quality preschool to more than 2,300 children in 17 communities. New Jersey was one of 18 states selected to receive a Preschool Development Grant of up to $17.5 million a year, to be renewed annually for up to four years. The grants are awarded jointly by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Wilkinson said the district will continue to apply for the grant as long as the NJDOE offers it, and the goal will be to utilize the funds to continuing making Oxycocus a tuition-free preschool.

Wilkinson also said it’s possible the district will ask for more funding, but only if additional classroom space opens up inside the Oxycocus building. Chidiac said the district is looking into ways to make that happen, including the possibility of moving some administrative offices into locations within the district’s other four buildings.

“We’re very interested in bringing in more students to Oxycocus, so we’re exploring all the possibilities,” Chidiac said. “Nothing’s set in stone right now, but we are looking into how we might be able to create some more classroom space at the preschool.”

— David Biggy

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