Liverpool: LEEP into education

Parents of special needs kids can give them an early start on their education, thanks to Liverpool's Early Education Program. LEEP welcomes 3- and 4-year-olds in need of special education services as well as "typical" youngsters, integrating both into a classroom.

According to the district website, LEEP is "a center-based inclusive preschool program where 3- and 4-year-old children of various strengths and abilities learn and grow through play, music and social interactions." The program is divided between Liverpool Elementary and Donlin Drive Elementary.

"The state and county fund the program for special ed kids," said LE Principal Bill Mugridge. "We have nine kids with disabilities and six typical 'peers' whose parents pay tuition."

The preschool program follows the district calendar with the same start dates and vacations as the elementary schools. It offers two classes per site per day: a 3-year-old class in the morning and a 4-year-old class in the afternoon. Each class lasts for two and a half hours. Kids in the program hail from all over the county.

"About 70 percent of our kids are from Liverpool," Mugridge said, "but it's a county program, so we do get kids from Baldwinsville and Syracuse and other areas."

LEEP began in 1988 as a pre-kindergarten program exclusively for toddlers in need of special education. Housed at Zogg, the program grew to include "typical" preschoolers who could serve as models for those with special needs. When the Zogg building was sold, half of the children were moved to LE and the other half to DDE.

Despite the change in location, the mission of the program remains the same: to provide an integrated pre-kindergarten program to the county's children. In order to best serve the kids, the student-teacher ratio is kept very low.

"We have a special education teacher and speech therapist in every classroom who team teach, plus two classroom teachers on site," Mugridge said. "There are also physical therapy, speech and occupational therapy services on site."

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