St. Joseph’s UPK (Universal Pre-Kindergarten) program offers jobs to nearly 100 SJNY alumni annually — and not just those with an education degree.
In addition to offering free pre-K education to young children in six school districts across Long Island, the UPK program also offers a great option for recent graduates to get their foot in the door with a part-time entry-level classroom position.
Renneisen noted about 60% of the UPK program employees are St. Joseph’s University, New York graduates.
The History of UPK
Back in 2006, the late Mary Fritz, Ed.D., associate professor of child study, began the UPK program through St. Joseph’s after her dissertation revealed a need for free pre-K education on Long Island.
“Dr. Fritz took her vision of providing a ‘smart start’ for early learners, and it blossomed into a program that provided pre-kindergarten services to thousands of children,” Renneisen said. “After Dr. Fritz passed away, we not only had the obligation to carry on her mission, but also to exceed her expectations and continue to expand and grow.”
While the program started in one school district on Long Island, it’s now offered across a total of six districts: Freeport, Lawrence, Plainedge, Westbury, Wyandanch and Uniondale.
“The districts where it was first offered noticed that the students receiving the free service had a better handle on curriculum and acclimating to kindergarten,” said Renneisen, who explained that the program targets low-income areas. “There were also some studies that show a correlation between going to pre-K and ending up in college after high school.”
Through the St. Joseph’s program, young learners grow in a structured, play-based environment with one fully certified lead teacher and one co-teacher or teacher assistant (typically someone who is working on their teacher certification).
Currently, the program offers 45 classes, with 82 teachers, six site supervisors and nearly 1,000 students.
How Alumni Benefit from the Program
The program is a great option for recent St. Joseph’s graduates looking for experience in a classroom.
“It’s a unique program that’s really valuable to new teachers coming out of St. Joseph’s,” Renneisen said. “It’s almost like coming out of student teaching and into the real world, but still having that safety net of real support, as well as a real honest understanding of early childhood.”
While most of the co-teachers did earn degrees in child study or have concentrations in adolescence education, Renneisen said that they also employ instructors who majored in psychology and speech-language pathology, as well as adults coming from other fields who are looking to change their careers.
“Student teaching just gets your feet wet,” Renneisen said. “But you want to get in, and you want to dive, and you want to be rolling in the waves. You want to figure out how you’re going to survive a really bad wave. This is how you’re going to do it. And you can’t walk into an interview without having experience. This is the rewards, the exposure, the camaraderie, the support.”
Alumni who find jobs within the program frequently grow in their positions, rising from co-teachers to lead teachers and even site supervisors. They have also gone on to receive job offers for K-12 teaching positions within their UPK’s school district.
“Every time we interview new students that come out of St. Joseph’s, we emphasize to them that they’re building their résumé,” Renneisen said. “They’re gaining exposure in a school district and learning about themselves as educators. Most importantly, they’re getting experience they can use in interviews so that the answers are going to be their own.”
Learn More about St. Joseph’s UPK Program
The UPK program also offers current St. Joseph’s students the chance to sub over winter break or any break in their schedule.
“The most rewarding part of this program, aside from what we are able to do, is the impact we have on families,” Renneisen said. “It’s important work, you know, working with little kids. And it’s important work, working where we work.”
Those interested in learning more about the program and how they can benefit from it should contact Renneisen at firstname.lastname@example.org.