Penn Hills PA Pre-K Counts Classroom Open House on Dec. 12, 2019

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Educators, Students and Parents joined staff from the Private Industry Council of Westmoreland/Fayette, Inc. to celebrate the opening of two PA Pre-K Counts Classrooms at Penn Hills High School.

Below please find an article by Michael DiVittorio from the Tribune-Review on the event as well as pictures taken by PIC staff.

Penn Hills pre-K classrooms have kids excited for school

Transitioning into kindergarten can be challenging for young students and their parents.

That’s why a local nonprofit recently opened two new classrooms to make those efforts as smooth as possible for Penn Hills families.

“Every transition in life has their own anxieties,” said Rene Ozias-Hawthorne, pre-k manager with the Private Industry Council (PIC) of Westmoreland/Fayette. “Whether it’s starting a new job, and that anxiety we feel, kids feel that, too. Our job is to take away those fears and help them feel as comfortable as possible when they enter that school on the first day.”

Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts was established by the state Department of Education to provide quality pre-kindergarten opportunities to children and families throughout the commonwealth.

PIC was established in 1983 to administer employment and training programs for economically disadvantaged individuals in Westmoreland and Fayette counties. It expanded its early childhood development division in 2007 to include the Pre-K Counts program.

Penn Hills School District’s pre-k program at its elementary school was eliminated this school year as part of restructuring and budget cuts. PIC reached out to district officials and were able to open two classrooms by October. They serve 36 children with 18 in each room.

“It made a nice transition to make sure those families weren’t losing services,” PIC Chief Operating Officer Shujuane Martin said. “The data showed that there was a need in the area … Being co-located in the Penn Hills High School allows for an exciting partnership, not only with the school district staff, but also with their child development students. Where we are not only providing services to the preschoolers, we are also providing hands-on experience to future early childhood educators by allowing the students in the child development class to come down and volunteer.”

District administrators and kindergarten teachers also periodically stop by the pre-k classrooms.

“I think it’s a win-win the whole way around when you look at it,” Superintendent Nancy Hines said. “We have little kids, families who are receiving a service … A lot of our kids at the high school have little brothers and sisters. It’s very well accepted and it’s creating more of a family environment.”

District and PIC officials hosted a pre-k open house on Thursday.

Resident Tricia Stuckey has her son, Christian Harris, 5, enrolled in the program.

“I’ve been very impressed so far with the curriculum that I’ve seen, also the setup,” Harris said. “I’ve found the pre-k class is helping him to better socialize with his peers, be more proactive in his interactions with individuals and overall the amount of things that he’s learning. He’s learning to write his letters better, things like that.”

Christian said he’s made friends, likes to play at the centers and loves his teacher, Tricia Sullivan.

The “centers” are different parts of the classroom designed for science, reading, technology and other educational activities. They have a plastic kitchenette set, phone, cash register, a safe space where children can express their feelings by pointing to emojis, and the rooms are decorated with student artwork.

“It’s a wonderful program (and) I’m very happy to be a part of it,” said Sullivan, a Pre-K Counts classroom supervisor. “One of the child development students planned a Christmas party for us … They love the science area. That’s probably the most popular.”

Candace Henderson is the other supervisor at Penn Hills. She led residents Joshua and Arrie Clark on a tour of their 4-year-old daughter Araya’s classroom.

“I think the kids are really enjoying the rooms,” Henderson said. “They have become adapted to the transition being in the high school. I think they’re really enjoying being here with the high school kids … They are building friendships within each classroom.”

Joshua Clark said they recently moved from Wilkinsburg to Penn Hills and were happy they found something beneficial for Araya.

“It looks like a really good learning environment,” he said. “Tables are grouped together. (There are) sensory things they can use for learning. My daughter loves it so far. She loves coming. She’s already made friends. We started in the beginning of November. Came out of daycare and heard this was opening (and) we’ve liked it ever since.”

Araya called the classrooms “pretty” and likes the housekeeping center because she gets to play with the phone.

Families at the open house also had the chance to make snowmen out of socks, cotton and ribbons, as well as participate in a scavenger hunt, where they found a variety of holiday items.

Tuition is income-based and children must be either 3 or 4 years old by Sept. 1 to register. Breakfast and lunch is provided.

PIC also has two pre-k classrooms in the Shaler Area School District as well as Central Valley School District in Beaver County and several different school districts in Fayette County.

More information about the program is available at

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367,

Link to article on


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