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Full-day pre-K expansion adds 1,000 teachers in NYC

Giovanna Petrizzo of Huntington in her living room

Giovanna Petrizzo of Huntington in her living room on Thursday Aug 28, 2014 with some of the supplies she purchased for her students. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Giovanna Petrizzo said she can't wait for her first day of prekindergarten Thursday in Queens. She has markers, stickers, puzzles and other supplies ready to go. She's eager to meet the 15 students in her class.

And as the teacher, she'll parlay that anticipation into a welcoming environment for the 4-year-olds who'll be anxious in a different way, she said.

"If we all work together, it's going to be a good year," said Petrizzo, 26, of Huntington, who transitions into the role of full-time New York City teacher from part-time Copiague prekindergarten teacher with the city's unprecedented pre-K expansion. "To see kids smile is the best thing in the world."

The pressure is on Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration, which has made universal pre-K a cornerstone initiative and locked horns with political allies, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, on the path to realizing the expansion.

But teachers on the front line will also feel the heat. The mayor, speaking at a pre-K teaching institute at Brooklyn College two weeks ago, characterized the stakes as "a blessing and a curse."

"The blessing is we're going to change . . . individual lives and public debate and the expectations in our society for the better," he told teachers. "The curse is the eyes of the world are on us. The pressure's on us to perform, to get it right."

The city has hired 1,000 new teachers, the majority of whom will work at the community-based organizations. Petrizzo will teach at Kidz World Early Childhood Center in Springfield Gardens. The city's Department of Education said it's too soon to say how many of its pre-K teachers are from Long Island or beyond the boroughs.

The city has enrolled more than 50,000 students in full-day pre-K this fall, compared with 20,000 last year. Space was found in 600 public schools and 1,100 community-based organizations, such as day care centers and parochial schools using $300 million in state money.

The pre-K expansion is a welcome opportunity for Petrizzo. She will teach full time and earn a $35,000 annual salary, which she said advances her career from the part-time Copiague position she had held at $15 an hour. Petrizzo, a certified teacher, has a bachelor's degree in early childhood education from LIU Post, and is pursuing a master's degree in literacy, also from LIU Post.

She was among the 4,000 pre-K teachers and assistant teachers who attended three-day training sessions at Queens College and Brooklyn College last month. She said she feels the weight of being what de Blasio called the "change-makers" in his "historic" undertaking.

"Everybody's nervous because they're looking at you, you're on the radar," Petrizzo said, adding of her teaching institute, "We all were so eager to be there. We talked about the diverse communities, the fact that the kids come from all over the world, the knowledge they'll bring."

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, at the Brooklyn College session, told the teachers that they will be most students' introduction to formal education. "If they come home happy, over time, you will have started them on a career path to loving school," she said.

Petrizzo said she's ready to face the challenge and expects to grow alongside her students.

"As teachers, we're always learning," she said. "Our learning doesn't stop."

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