Brookline is known for its first-rate public schools, so it should come as no surprise that it is also home to one of the most successful early education and learning programs in the country. The Brookline Early Education Program or BEEP is geared towards both preschoolers (2.6 to 3.4 years old) and pre-kindergarteners (3-5 years old) before they attend kindergarten. Starting this fall, over 300 children from Brookline will take part in BEEP in 23 classrooms across seven sites including the Driscoll School, Heath School, Runkle School, BEEP at Lynch (Lynch Center), BEEP on Beacon (Diane K. Trust Center), BEEP at Putterham, and another location still to be determined.
BEEP began in 1972 as a collaboration between Brookline Public Schools, Children’s Hospital, and local area universities. The program was an offshoot of the Brookline Early Education Project which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York to guide and support local parents and minimize health and developmental problems in Brookline area children before they started school. Research findings from the project showed that children who were involved in early learning programs were healthier and performed better later in school. These results paved the way for the BEEP program of today.
Methodology and Curricula:
Despite some programmatic changes over the years, the core curriculum of BEEP has remained centered around the individual needs and interests of the child. Using themes and specially designed “interest centers”, BEEP teachers encourage learning through play and experimentation. Children master new skills by working individually and with their peers in small groups focused on activity choices scattered throughout the classroom. They begin to make connections between overarching class themes and the activities put in front of them; building self-confidence as they acquire new skills in the areas of literacy, science, sociodramatic play, table games, math, and art. Classrooms are always evolving to keep children engaged and motivated in a highly hands-on and sensory driven environment. BEEP teachers are active participants and active observers as well, to ensure that individual and group goals are being met and that changes can be made quickly and seamlessly when needed.
Small classroom sizes and a low child to teacher ratio play critical roles in executing the research based curriculum successfully within the classroom. Typically, BEEP classrooms have one lead teacher, one assistant teacher, and one or more aids depending on the needs of the group. In addition, social workers, speech and language specialists, and occupational and physical therapists are ongoing visitors in all of the BEEP classrooms. These professionals work one-on-one with children who need special assistance, as well as the other children usually in small groups. Every BEEP student benefits from the knowledge and expertise that these individuals bring; improving his or her own skill sets in these specific developmental areas. Classroom sizes typically range from 10 to 15 children per class. These numbers are lower than the industry standard that one would find in a daycare setting for children of similar ages. In a pre-kindergarten daycare classroom, state regulations allow for 20 children to be monitored by two teachers or caregivers, for example.
What truly differentiates BEEP from other state and national programs is its focus on inclusive learning. All BEEP classrooms are inclusive, meaning they contain children who have been pre-identified as having special learning needs. BEEP believes deeply that incorporating these children in this environment at such an early age not only helps them progress and grow, but also positively impacts the other children in the class as well. A variety of specialists do work closely with BEEP students every day – some who have specific challenges, but many who do not. The entire class reaps the benefits of these additional resources and this extra attention and learns firsthand to accept and support differences among one another. There is a unique degree of understanding and empathy in a BEEP classroom because of its inclusive nature. Vicki Milstein, Principal of Early Education Programs at BEEP, says, “I have been in a BEEP classroom where a group of children were building a school with blocks and they all agreed they needed to build a ramp knowing that one child in their classroom was in a wheelchair. BEEP children are taught that differences of all varieties should be accepted and embraced. And, of course, to act on this in their learning interactions.”
Issues and Roadblocks:
One of the challenges that BEEP faces is space. There are a limited number of BEEP locations and not enough spots in the program for every preschool age child in Brookline. A number of BEEP classrooms have been forced to relocate over the last several years as the Pierce School, Lawrence School, and Devotion School, all former BEEP sites, have become more crowded. On the enrollment side, BEEP expects to receive 200 to 300 applications this coming fall and will accept approximately 125 children. BEEP tries to ensure that each classroom has an appropriate mix of ages, genders, languages, etc. Children who have siblings who are or were in BEEP are given special consideration, as are families who have previously applied and either been denied or waitlisted. The low acceptance rate has led some parents in Brookline to suggest that getting into BEEP is harder than Harvard. While this is not necessarily true, until additional classroom space is found, supply will not meet the strong demand for the program among young Brookline families.
Even though it is a part of the Brookline Public School system, BEEP is not a free program. Aid is available, however, to qualified families. The program runs from September to June, in accordance with the Brookline Public Schools calendar, typically five days a week for just over three to four hours per day based on the age of the child. It can cost over $900 a month, for example, for half-day, five day a week pre-kindergarten. Costs are less for preschool programs and extended day options are available at some BEEP locations for additional fees. For working families who need extended day support, BEEP can be more expensive than comparable local daycare options, often up to $500 more a month depending on sites.
BEEP’s financial model, like many schools and educational programs, is a challenging one. In addition to tuition and funding received from Brookline Public Schools, it relies annually on a variety of state and federal grants whose allocations can be subject to change at a moment’s notice to keep its operations going. Vicki Milstein says proudly, “Despite these financial pressures, the town of Brookline – everyone from the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Bill Lipini, to the School Committee – is committed to BEEP and understands its value in building strong schools and lifelong learners. I am grateful for this trust and the trust of the hundreds of BEEP families. It is a privilege to be a part of their children’s lives.”
BEEP has been a popular and trusted member of the early education landscape in Brookline for many years, but it is not necessarily the top choice or best fit for every family. As a Brookline parent, I have had children both in BEEP and at daycare at Little Children’s Schoolhouse in Brookline Village. I know firsthand that there are many local high-quality, childcare options that offer a safe, caring, and engaging environment for children and incredible flexibility and reliability for parents. Given that BEEP follows a typical school year calendar and can be more expensive than comparable full-day, childcare alternatives, some families choose not to enroll their children even after receiving coveted acceptance letters from the program. My family has had positive experiences with both BEEP and our daycare choice.
Brookline is unique. Few communities offer the wealth of early education programs – both public and private – that Brookline does.
~ Casey Hassenstein