BUSHWICK — Thirty-four years after opening its doors, Bushwick United Head Start is still continually expanding to meet local parents' demand for free preschool programs.
"We have four free centers that serve 700 kids...but there are a lot of people we can't accommodate because we don't have the space," said Jose Gonzalez, Bushwick United Head Start's founder and director. "We're doing the best we can."
Like the Head Start, Bushwick and East Williamsburg's public school pre-K's are also overflowing with applicants — though some families say they opt out of the free programs, concerned about their quality.
"We just haven't found any schools we like at least within a reasonable distance," said Silvia Tripoli, a young mom who started the private arts-based Kids' Canvas program near Maria Hernandez Park when she felt dissatisfied with preschool choices in Bushwick. "We have friends taking their kids to Manhattan or to Williamsburg."
Gonzalez and other free pre-K providers, say it's important to provide an array of high-quality educational options to a diverse group of Bushwick families — both the children and the parents.
"We've been in the community forever...we have a social services department for parents, GED classes and an inclusion program for special needs kids," Gonzalez said. "We have a very intensive program, and there's a real demand."
Here are some of Bushwick and East Williamsburg's noteworthy free pre-K programs:
Bushwick United Head Start, 136 Stanhope St., 77 Wilson Ave., 178 Leonard St. and 331 Central Ave.
The neighborhood Bushwick United Head Start has free pre-K locations on Central Avenue, Stanhope Street, Wilson Avenue and Leonard Street. The nonprofit offers full-day programs to children and has rolling admissions that are open now for the fall. Bushwick United, which has slots for hundreds of children, unlike most public school pre-K programs, also helps lead the city's initiative Bushwick Making Children Important, promoting local kids' wellbeing.
This intimate four-year-old school has quickly grown popular in its Hart Street location. The pre-K program received 98 applications for 18 spots last year, according to the Department of Education, and the school's hands-on approach includes partnerships with professional artists and dancers, Insideschools notes. The school is technically just across the border in Bedford-Stuyvesant, but many Bushwick families send their children there. The school once again has just 18 spots available for the 2013-14 year.
P.S. 250, 280 Montrose Ave.
At this East Williamsburg magnet school, the motto is "where creativity shines," and a chorus and arts program is highlighted at the school's "evening of the arts." The popular full-day pre-K program was only able to accept one-third of the 81 students who applied last year.
P.S. 257, 60 Cook St.
Another East Williamsburg magnet school, P.S. 257, has a devoted principal in Brian DeVale who focuses on providing arts instruction to students falling 88 percent below the poverty level. The school's pre-K received 93 applications for 36 spots last year but will expand to offer 54 seats in 2013.