Pre-kindergarten students in MaryBeth Pride's class at Hope Elementary School learned all about farm animals May 12 on a day reserved for parent involvement in the program.

Mikey the miniature horse and Belle the goat, as well as a few chicks, visited with students from Horses With Hope rescue and Broadview Farm, also located in Hope. In addition, Bruce and Ernest, two sheep owned by Hope students Adam and Elizabeth Eaton, and Pat the bunny, owned by Pride, also were guests of honor.

The pre-K program at the school is in its first year of a five-year pilot program. It has 10 students split into morning and afternoon sessions.

The REDCO Foundation funded the program's startup costs, including the construction of a two-classroom modular unit behind the school. Under an agreement with the school, the foundation will pay up to $100,000 each year or the unfunded annual costs of the pre-K program. After the five years, school officials will evaluate the effectiveness of the program to decide if it should continue.

The pre-K students attend the program Mondays through Thursdays, from either 8:10 to 11:10 a.m. or 11:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., and Fridays are either used as family day or for planning.

"Part of pre-K is to have family involvement, so Friday is family day," Pride said. "It's something I believe in and it's best practices to have that involvement."

Students had a chance to interact with the animals, ask questions and even received a "pawtograph" from Mikey the miniature horse. They also were treated to a farming story.

Other family days this year have included visiting Hope Orchard, the library and working on a spinning wheel.

Pride said the state Department of Education reviewed the program in February, which requires assessment of the teaching credentials, curriculum and inspection of the classrooms. The program follows the Maine Early Learning Development Standards. A goal of the program is to integrate letters and number learning into play-based activities. Another goal is to have the students develop a relationship with the school, so when they enter kindergarten they are comfortable — removing that fear of the unknown that comes with the first day of school. By year's end these students can count to 20, write their name and recognize letters in random order and also have started to develop rhyming skills.

The pre-K students have second-, fourth- and fifth-grade peer helpers, have French class, courtesy of the elementary school's French teacher, Maureen Rispoli, and often do trips to the kindergarten class at the school.

"That's one of the really nice benefits of being affiliated with a public school," Pride said, noting the children know how to walk properly in the hallways and sit on the bleachers.

The pre-K program is expecting to more than double in size in the fall, with 20 students from Hope, and a few from neighboring towns. Children from Appleton, Lincolnville, Camden and Rockport also are welcome in the program if space allows. Pride said the pre-K can accommodate a maximum of 32 students. The students must be 4 years old by Oct. 15 to qualify.

Courier Publications Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at