NORWALK, Conn. -- At the official Opening Day and ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Maritime Odyssey Preschool in South Norwalk on Thursday morning, 4-year-old Stephanie Parrera saw a starfish, "and painted one," too.
She also saw a crab, which "pinched."
Stephanie was one of several dozen preschoolers who had a blast as they checked out jellyfish, crabs and other sea life, then stepped inside a 43-foot-long life-size inflatable walk-in humpback whale.
The ceremony, which was held at Nathaniel Ely School in South Norwalk, was attended by about 50 educators as well as Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling and State Sen. Bob Duff.
Using marine life and the aquarium's live animal collection, the preschool is doing something unique: it's integrating aquarium programming into its curriculum.
It will work directly in partnership with the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, as well as Odyssey Early Learning Center -- an educational provider; and Grace Baptist Church in Norwalk, which will host workshops for parents.
An aquarium educator will be working at the preschool full time, working directly with the 200 students, who range in age from 14 months to 5 years.
According to preschool director Monisha Gibson, the school intends to become a national model for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.
The students' families will receive Maritime Aquarium membership, and parents must commit to attend at least two parenting workshops in addition to optional workshops offered by Grace Baptist Church.
Other features of the preschool include daily African drumming, an on-site science lab and field trips to the Maritime Aquarium. Tuition is based on a sliding scale.
At the ribbon-cutting, Gibson said, "Today we are committed to delivering high-quality services to children in this community to set a standard of excellence. This was a vision over a year ago. We will not disappoint."
The Rev. Lindsay Curtis of Grace Baptist Church said the preschool families will be taking part in workshops in literacy and family education.
"We can help our families come together, talk about family values and also literacy. We want to be able to help non-English and English-speaking parents read more to their children," he said.
Rilling said he envisions that the preschool will become a national model. "This is that village that you see it takes to raise a child," he said.
Children need to be involved in education at a young age. "There is no greater preparation for a college career than early childhood education," he said.
Duff said children who are challenged at a young age will be prepared when it comes time to enter the workforce.
"Many companies in Connecticut are hiring hundreds for highly skilled, high-wage jobs. The jobs that we need in the state of Connecticut need to be filled and they need to be filled by our kids right here.
"That's why we have this passion for the children who are being served right now," Duff said. "We believe they can fill those jobs of the 21st-century, so keep the passion up."
The Maritime Odyssey Preschool is at 11 Ingalls Ave., Norwalk. For more information, call 475-215-6100.
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