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GILCHRIST – Serenity pushes her shopping cart up to the register at the miniature toy Gilchrist Grocery Store. The clerk is one of her preschool classmates, who counts out her change before handing her the pretend money.

The two are among 16 Gilchrist-area 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds enrolled in a new grant-funded, preschool program at Gilchrist Elementary School.

The school has offered a part-time program in the past, but this year expanded to full-time after receiving a renewable two-year $240,000 Preschool Promise grant from the Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division. The award also included $20,000 for start-up costs for supplies, furniture, and academic materials.

The start-up funds were used to purchase a toy kitchen, manipulatives such as stacking blocks and large floor puzzles, as well as math, reading, and science activities. There are sleeping mats, colorful rugs, a painting station, and the grocery store.

The preschool operates from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Fridays. Students eat breakfast and lunch, participate in gym, and even have naptime. The daily schedule includes plenty of story and circle time, math activities, music, and movement.

“Our curriculum fills their days with hands-on learning activities to give them a wide exposure to the world around them,” said Melanie Mobley, principal of Gilchrist Elementary School, who manages the preschool program with head teacher Dana Link and assistant teacher Kathy Collier.

Play --building blocks, painting, coloring, and play-acting roles in the school’s kitchen and store – is also a valuable part of the program.

“Learning through play helps children not only develop social skills, but also develops communication and problem solving skills throughout the day,” Mobley said. “Play also helps preschoolers develop fine and gross motor skills.”

Preschool Promise grants are targeted to low-income or rural areas where there is limited access to preschool programs.