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Retired educator on panel studying all-day kindergarten

WALLINGFORD — Five years after she retired as an educator, Arlene Cassello still volunteers with local organizations that focus on early childhood development.

The town resident worked in education for 38 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a masters in early childhood education and advanced degrees in reading and administration. She taught preschool, kindergarten and first grade and served as Hamden’s literacy coordinator and director of instruction.

“My passion is with preschool and with literacy and with the importance of young children and getting them where they need to be,” Cassello said.

Cassello is on the board of Wallingford Early Childhood Alliance Resources and Education — a nonprofit that researches early childhood development and helps coordinate preschool activities and workshops. She also runs Wallingford Raising Readers Club, which aims to teach parents how to read with their children to prepare them for kindergarten.

She also serves on a Board of Education panel exploring possible changes in early childhood education, including all-day kindergarten. The all-day program has been adopted or is under discussion in many towns.

The 13-member Early Childhood Exploratory Committee is comprised of parents, teachers, administrators and school board members. It has five subcommittees that will look at a variety of different areas related to early childhood education. The committee hopes to present a plan to the Board of Education by mid-November.

Cassello said it’s too early for her to say whether the committee should recommend all-day kindergarten, but she’s “very pleased they’re investigating it.”

Some parents have expressed interest in all-day kindergarten as an alternative to daycare. But Cassello said viewing the program that way provides no advantages to the community.

“That’s definitely the bad side of it. It is not to be looked at as a full day babysitting program,” Cassello said. “It’s advantageous in districts with all-day (kindergarten) because you have more time with curriculum work; the whole piece of socialization and the individual strengths of getting them out.”

If the committee does opt for an all-day kindergarten program, Cassello said it could have a negative financial impact on town daycare centers.

“If they went half a day to kindergarten in the morning and then daycare in the afternoon, they wouldn’t have that anymore,” Cassello said of the possible adoption of all-day kindergarten. “It would impact them and we have to look at that and be sensitive of everyone’s needs.”

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Shawn Parkhurst said having Cassello on the committee is a benefit, given her background in education.

“She brings all the things happening in early childhood education both locally and at a state level. She knows what’s going on in the schools with the connects and disconnects,” he said.

Cassello has been on the board for Wallingford Early Childhood Alliance Resources and Education since 2008. Roberta Clouet, project coordinator for the organization, said she was hoping to have someone from the alliance on the Early Childhood Exploratory Committee. Clouet said she didn’t have an opinion on whether the committee should recommend all-day kindergarten.

“WECARE takes a step back and is looking at childhood development from birth to age 8,” Clouet said. “We’re looking for the community to understand the importance of early childhood development.”

Cassello will continue staying involved in the realm of early education, and is looking forward to seeing what comes out of the Early Childhood Exploratory Committee.

“Where it goes from here depends on what we find when we finish the research,” she said. (203) 317-2235 Twitter: @EricVoRJ

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