Francis of Paola Early Learning Center (also known as FOP), located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is a National Association for the Education of Young Children, (NAEYC)-accredited preschool that has been part of the Williamsburg community since 1998. FOP serves approximately 150 children between the ages 3 and 5 years old, providing individualized educational and therapeutic services to children who have developmental delays such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), intellectual disability (ID), communication disorder, Cerebral Palsy, orthopedic needs, and Down Syndrome.
Classrooms at FOP have a different teacher to child ratios, depending on the needs of the young learners. For children with autism or related disorders, FOP has created classrooms with the highest levels of support that utilize ABA-based methodology, programming, and assessment, presented by highly-trained instructors.
FOP offers multiple opportunities for all parents to visit the school, attend free workshops, volunteer, and attend progress reports and team meetings. Parents are always recognized as key participants in their child’s education.
The FOP community strives through compassion, support, and expertise to enhance the lives of today’s young learners and support their families in with all available resources. When young students leave FOP, they are better prepared to meet the challenges of elementary school.
All staff in FOP are accredited by the state of New York. Each classroom includes a certified teacher as well as certified teaching assistants who have training in how to work with preschool learners who need extra support. FOP also has a team of school-based therapists who provide speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy for students whose deficits require related services along with a school psychologist, program coordinators, and a dedicated administrative staff.
For its curricular foundation, FOP utilizes a preschool, a play-based model called the Creative Curriculum. Within the Creative Curriculum, classrooms are structured to reflect the developmental continuum. Instruction is presented in a way that children feel safe and comfortable and, in time, become independent, confident learners. The Creative Curriculum focuses on child development, learning environments, content areas, defining the teacher role, and recognizing the family role, along with establishing specific “interest areas” in the classroom that have been shown to facilitate social/emotional, physical, cognitive, and language development (e.g. block area, water play, dramatic play area, etc.). The Creative Curriculum emphasizes small group instruction and rotations in order to provide the most effective, accessible instruction. Visual, auditory, and hands-on teaching are all aspects of the Creative Curriculum approach and provide the instructional tools needed to further child development.
Teachers at FOP are also trained on a corresponding assessment system, Teaching Strategies Gold: Objectives for Development and Learning Assessment Tool, which allows them to accurately track children’s progress and identify areas that need further attention. To encourage the consistent development of all of the young learners, the teachers at FOP develop programming that specifically supports the children’s unique learning needs and respects their differences in ability, culture, and learning style.
While all of the young learners are taught within the context of the Creative Curriculum, teachers create differentiated, developmentally-appropriate learning environments that allow each child to explore, understand, and complete constructive tasks at their own pace. FOP’s classrooms for students on the autism spectrum rely on the ABA model. Specifically, these classrooms use the STAR Program to develop curricular goals and encourage development in the essential domains across language, independence, and foundational skills.
Some young learners at FOP, particularly those with autism or communication disorders, require alternate or augmentative means of communication while their speech and language skills develop. Technology, both advanced and simple, plays an important role in supporting these students. Strategies involving PECS, (Picture Exchange Communication System), iPads, assistive communication devices, SMARTboards, and computers are commonplace in the classrooms and help instructors create motivating, reachable content that facilitates student learning. The school recognizes the potential value of technology in helping many students acquire appropriate skills but is aware of the possible issues caused by relying too heavily on these technological strategies. Overall, FOP understands the relationship between early communication skills, literacy, and development, and aligns the appropriate supports to encourage each child to achieve their individualized goals.
To help develop the young learners’ civic awareness, appreciation of diversity, and community-based skills, teachers provide enrichment activities such as Music That Heals and presentations from community members that share their heritage, culture, and values, including visitations from the local police and fire departments. Through the support of the Parent-Teacher Organization, (PTO), students are able to apply skills learned in school to the community when they go on field trips to educational sites and city landmarks. FOP also acknowledges that many healthy living and positive wellness habits are cultivated at a young age; therefore, the school occasionally holds nutrition workshops for the students and families and hosts an annual sports day at a nearby park. There is also a yearly dental clinic held in conjunction with New York University.
Francis of Paola Early Learning Center
201 Conselyea Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Principal: Teresa Del Priore
School Hours: 8:30 to 2:00