Class of 2017 holds its first graduation

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

JACKSON — The class of 2017 took the stage at the Fine Arts Center of Jackson Memorial High School last month. The June 25 graduation was not a scheduling error.

Each child who received a diploma had been enrolled in Jackson’s prekindergarten class of 2003-04. Beaming parents watched the exercise from the audience.

"It’s amazing," said Debbie Thais of her son Kyle, 4. "He went from not wanting to go to school to loving it. He’s a whole new kid. They do a great job."

Operated by the Jackson Community School, the program provides an academic program tailored to the needs of children who have not yet begun kindergarten.

The goal is to provide an environment that fosters academic and social development in preparation for future success in school. Children attend morning or afternoon classes every day for two-and-a-half hours.

The prekindergarten program provides pupils with a classroom-learning center and two certified teachers. Both features set Jackson’s prekindergarten program apart from those in other towns, said Angela Handfield, supervisor of community services-basic skills.

Elaine Simpson, coordinator of community services, agreed.

"Everything the teachers do is well thought out," she said. "It is not a day care center; the kids are there to learn."

Simpson also said the program helps to establish the foundation for life-long learning. The only requirements are that children be potty trained and at least 4 years old by October.

As morning instructor Lynda Sheridan and afternoon instructor Rebecca Sabine called out each of their students’ names and special award, other family members discussed how the program had made a difference in their child’s academic and social development.

Nadine Dunn watched her son, Griffin, 5, face the audience from the apron of the stage and take a bow after receiving his diploma. His mother said Griffin wants to become a train engineer or an astronaut. She said the latter career possibility was the result of a class trip to the planetarium at Ocean County College, Toms River.

"When he came back, he would name all the planets," she said. "He would tell me, ‘I can go to the stars,’ and I would tell him, ‘Yes, you can.’ He even colored the Earth green and blue (in his drawings). I was amazed."

Just as pleased with her son’s progress was Patricia Brown. Jordan Brown, 5, was the first child in the afternoon class to receive a diploma. Four generations of his family had come to watch Jordan graduate.

Grandmother Jo Ann Walker described the program as fabulous. She said she was not an advocate of prekindergarten programs, but Jackson offered one that had earned her respect.

Great-grandmother Ann Arneth said she had seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

"I’m blessed that I can be here to see this," she said.

Brown said the program had done wonders for her son. She said he was stimulated by everything he had learned.

"I’m so proud of him," she said.

The moment was particularly poignant for Dorothy and Jamil Debe, parents of David, 5. Born premature, David weighed less than 2 pounds at birth, his mother said.

"When they called his name (to receive his diploma), they said he was (awarded) most courageous — and he is," Debe said. "From day one, he’s scored above average. It’s very special for us to reach this moment."

Denise Davis said her son, Gregory, 4, received the helping hand award. She said that in view of his career aspiration to become either a firefighter or a police officer, the award was well-deserved.

"The teacher said he’s a leader," Davis said.

She said the program reinforced values that were taught at home. As a result, said grandmother Denise Lewith, Gregory is more mature and expresses himself better with adults and other children. Both women attributed the child’s improvement to the program.

Handfield said there are still openings available in the program’s afternoon class, which starts in September. For further information regarding the prekindergarten program, call the Jackson Community School at (732) 833-4637, or (732) 833-4647.