MANHATTAN — New York City students streamed back to school Thursday morning, brimming with jitters and excitement — and with many more 4-year-olds in the mix.
Thursday marked the launch of Mayor Bill de Blasio's expanded pre-K program, which aims to bring 53,000 kids into full-day preschool seats this fall. The program is under scrutiny as many programs open their doors, while others were canceled or put on hold.
In Crown Heights, Krystina Robinson said she was grateful for the new pre-K seats as she dropped her 4-year-old son Torii off at Inner Force Early Childhood Center.
"He feels like a big kid now," Robinson said. "If he wasn't here he'd probably be in daycare. I like this setting better because they are learning how to write."
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As of Thursday, there were 51,500 children registered at 1,655 public schools and community-based centers, said de Blasio, who kicked off his five-borough school tour at Inner Force. It was a vast undertaking to get the program off the ground, with the Fire Department conducting more than 6,000 inspections and pre-K programs hiring roughly 1,000 new head teachers.
"This will change the lives of these children," de Blasio said. "This will change the lives of these families for the long haul."
He added: "Until we get education right we can't get the rest of the equation right."
Rosimi Palacios, of Jackson Heights, was relieved that her 4-year-old Rosie landed a pre-K seat at P.S. 148, an East Elmhurst school where 72 seats were converted from half-day to full-day classes.
"[Now] she won't be bored at home," Palacios, 30, said, recalling how difficult it was when her first-grader Eliany was in the 2 hour and 30 minute half-day program.
"I needed to stop what I was doing and be back to pick her up," said Palacios, who works nights with developmentally disabled adults.
Many schools changed their start times this year as part of a new contract between the Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers union. The shift is meant to give extra time for teacher training and parent conferences. But some families were caught off guard by the changes.
On Staten Island, Nicole Carozza rushed to drop off her son in junior high at I.S. 24 in Great Kills for his 7:40 a.m. start before frantically driving her other son to his elementary school over in Richmond Town at P.S. 22, which starts this year at 8 a.m. instead of 8:10 a.m.
She hadn't gotten any messages from the school about the earlier start time, she said.
"It was a little confusing," she said, worried that her child would be late. "We didn't have any info."
Some parents at Long Island City's P.S./I.S. 78 were concerned that the new start time — some 40 minutes earlier, with school ending at 2:30 p.m. — was going to create logistical child care headaches. But others welcomed the change.
"They are able to do activities in the afternoon. They are able to do homework," said Isabella Masala, who second-grade daughter and fifth-grade son can now attend a martial arts program in Manhattan after school because of their earlier dismissal.
Not everyone was happy to be back in a classroom on a warm, sunny morning.
"I don’t like school,” said Iris Bogdan, 6, as she headed into first grade at the Spruce Street school in Lower Manhattan. "The worst thing is homework. I don’t like it. If you were a kid, would you like going to school?”
With reporting by Katie Honan, Trevor Kapp, Nicholas Rizzi and Jeanmarie Evelly.