Is expanding parochial pre-K an answer to Vermont's child care crunch?

MORRISTOWN, Vt. (WCAX) A local Catholic school is getting bigger to accommodate its smallest students.

Bishop John A. Marshall School in Morristown serves kids from pre-k through eighth grade. It's building a new wing for its expanding pre-k and after-school programs.Channel 3's Christina Guessferd talked to school leaders and parents about the change.

Pre-K students are excited for the new pre-K classrooms because it means more space to play. The current pre-K classroom at the Bishop Marshall School, a former teacher's lounge, can fit up to 10 kids.

"It's just too small. Small bodies need big spaces," said Carrie Wilson, Bishop Marshall's head of school.

The expansion would triple that space, as well as the number of small bodies the school can enroll. The new wing will include two pre-K classrooms serving 15 students in each-- one for 3.5- to 4-year-olds, and the other for 4- to 5-year-olds.

The new wing will house not only the two new classrooms but also a multipurpose room and a small kitchen where kids can learn to cook. It's all funded by a donation from local businessman Howard Manosh. Wilson says Manosh advised the school to build for what they needed most.

"We are growing and we have a lot of inquiries for early childhood and so we knew that was where our need was," she said.

But are the inquiries a reflection of higher demand for Catholic school education or Vermont's child care crunch? School officials say once kids begin in pre-K, the expectation is that they're going to stay and a majority do. They say five of six pre-K kids went on to the kindergarten program in 2016, six of eight did in 2017 and 2018, and about seven of nine are expected to do so this upcoming school year.

"I have families calling us at an age of 2 trying to get their kids in, not because they're looking for day care. They want a quality education for their child," said Jennifer Nordenson, the school's director of enrollment and marketing.

Incoming Bishop Marshall pre-K parents like Sarrah Patch share that sentiment.

"She came out of pre-K knowing her alphabet in French, knowing a bunch of different things, different aspects of stuff that every day is like, wow, you're coming out of pre-K and going into kindergarten already knowing this," she said. "We're going to continue to hit the grade max out here and we'll go from there."

School officials say the architectural plans were just finalized and they're hopeful the new wing will be up and open by the start of the next school year on August 26.