Stepping Stones Preschool in Westport aiming for a year 'as close to normal as possible'

WESTPORT — The Untracht family is new to Westport, having just moved to town a few weeks ago. But 4-year-old Dillon Untracht didn’t seem to have any “new kid” jitters as she posed for first day of school pictures outside Stepping Stones Preschool Wednesday morning.

She and her 2-year-old sister Rebel bounced around in front of a sign placed outside the school, welcoming students. “We’re all very excited,” said mom Natasha Untracht.

Those feelings of excitement weren’t even tempered by the fact that the school is opening under the same COVID-19 protocols that other Westport Public Schools opened under Aug. 31. These include masks for students and staff, social distances of at least three feet and a requirement that visitors inside the school building be vaccinated.

Despite these precautions, Westport and other school districts have seen COVID-19 cases crop up among staff and students. According to the Westport Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard, as of Wednesday, there were 13 Westport schools staff and students who were isolating after confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, and 17 who were in quarantine.

Yet the mood at Stepping Stones Wednesday morning was upbeat and enthusiastic. Natasha Untracht said that, so far, Stepping Stones has given every indication that they are ready to face another unusual school year.

“They’ve been great,” she said. “Very communicative.”

Dillon is one of 75 students who started class at the preschool on Wednesday, which is in person after a year of hybrid education. It also has a new director in Megan Clarke, who was previously assistant principal at Long Lots Elementary School in Westport.

“This is extremely exciting for me,” Clarke said of the new post. “And it’s really nice to be based in the building.”

Stepping Stones students are mostly 3 and 4 years old, and the school serves both special needs and typical students. Clarke said she does expect there will be challenges around mask wearing, but they will be addressed as they come up.

“There are kids who struggle to keep the mask on,” she said. “But we’re modeling the mask wearing, and we’re working with parents to get to the point where the children are more comfortable with the masks.”

Overall, Clarke said she’s looking forward to a fun and fruitful school year. “We’re just trying to run things as close to normal as possible,” she said.