Gabriella Peruzzi started a wonderful adventure this school year. She is going to St. Ephrem School in Bensalem for the very first time and presumably for years to come. That’s because she is just 3 years old.

Now that may seem young, but it is surprisingly common, and it is not just because her mom and dad Jennifer and Michael both work.

“She has been cared for by my mom and mother-in-law,” Jennifer Peruzzi said. “She has been going to church with us since she was born but she is outgoing and inquisitive, and she will get much more out of this being with her peers and learning in a structured setting.”

The fact is many children are going to school at a much earlier age than in past generations. St. Ephrem School already had Kindergarten and pre-K when they introduced pre-K3 by popular demand.

Actually they are not alone, as education studies have shown. Quality education for children as young as 3 pays big dividends when they enter high grades.

To enter the program at St. Ephrem the child must be 3 years of age before Aug. 31 and potty trained, and of course have immunization records and health examination reports.

This isn’t just babysitting, according to Gwen Kochanski, the advancement director at St. Ephrem School.

“There is a full schedule of age-appropriate classes and activities geared just to (the children) including music, art, visits to the library, story time, gym, a pleasant mix of learning and socializing with their peers — pretty much the same sort of  things the big kids are doing.”

Ben Bostic and Brielle DiIenno have fun learning at St. Ephrem School’s pre-K3 class, which opened in September. (Sarah Webb)

The day runs from 8 a.m. to about 2:30 p.m., but many of the children if not most will stay longer, up to 6 p.m. in the CARES Program, usually because both their moms and dads work, according to Kochanski.

There is tuition of course, and it is slightly higher than that for grades one to eight for the simple reason that very young children require more individual attention.

But just as in the rest of the school, tuition assistance is available for families with needs.

Tracy DiIenno is in her 14th year as an early childhood teacher in Catholic schools but new this year at St. Ephrem. She sees the issue from several perspectives. She and her husband Matthew have daughter Leah in Kindergarten at St. Ephrem, their daughter Brielle is in pre-K3 and Tracy herself will be teaching pre-K4.

“I think 3 is a great age for them to come in and be part of the school community, and socializing,” she said. ”My daughter is excited to be part of her sister’s school; they will be under the same roof.”

As a teacher, “you do see the difference in kids who have been in pre-K,” she said.  “They learn how to get along, how to do things on time. It’s a stepping stone. Also, because St. Ephrem is a faith-based school, they learn about Jesus and they learn how to pray. I definitely see the value of pre-K and it is exciting for me to be part of it.”

Pre-K3 at St. Ephrem isn’t limited to the children of parish members. Perhaps half of the children will advance to pre-K4 and Kindergarten at St. Ephrem then move on to a school closer to home.

Even though the children’s memories of pre-K3 may slowly fade away, its benefits will last a lifetime, wherever they go.

The pre-K3 class at St. Ephrem School, Bensalem. (Sarah Webb)