IT was the first day of kindergarten, and the young students in the blue-carpeted classroom were making the first overtures toward friendship. ``My dad works at Honeywell,'' one boy said.
``So does my dad,'' another boy chimed in.
``So does my mom,'' added a little girl.
``My mommy and daddy do, too,'' another student piped up.
And so it went. To their amazement, all of the children had at least one parent working for Honeywell. It was this common bond, in fact, that had brought them to this brand-new facility - a joint effort between Honeywell and the Pinellas County schools to offer accredited, on-site schooling for children of employees. The company provides facilities for up to 75 students from kindergarten through second grade. The school system supplies teachers and books.
Honeywell's venture, called Learning Well, stands as one of only a handful of partnerships around the country, most of them in Florida. A second Pinellas County partnership school opened in August on Department of Energy grounds. (See accompanying story.) Dade County is home to three more, with another scheduled to start next fall. Dr. Frank Petruzielo, associate superintendent for Dade County schools, notes that the 1990 Florida legislature passed a law giving corporations tax exemptions for partnership school property.
For companies, partnership schools represent the latest development in ``family friendly'' benefits - a tool for recruiting and retaining workers. As Charles Peters, Honeywell's manager of compensation and benefits, explains, ``We were looking for some additional benefit to keep people. This became a very significant component. When we lose people, the cost of replacing them is very high.''
For school systems, the arrangement serves as a way to cut costs. ``We're a very fast-growing county,'' says Carol Jackson, a staff member with the Pinellas County schools. ``Every classroom we fill on a business site is a classroom we won't have to fill in one of our schools.'' The school department first approached businesses two years ago to suggest partnerships.
For employees with young children, on-site schools offer the advantages of proximity and shared commuting schedules. Bob Cullen, a Honeywell engineer, drives the five miles between home and work with his son Ross, a kindergartner. At 7:45 a.m., he drops the boy off at school - a cluster of four blue-gray classrooms on the southwest corner of Honeywell's property. School begins at 7:50, and Mr. Cullen is at his desk by 8. Closer ties with teachers
``It was pretty exciting, from our perspective, that he could go to a school on my campus,'' says Cullen. ``It offers a little more togetherness, both before and after school and at lunch.''
Pam Evans, an executive secretary whose son, Ben, is also enrolled in kindergarten, agrees. ``One of the best things is knowing he's close,'' she says. ``It's as comforting to me as it is to him.''
That proximity, coupled with the school's small size, also enables parents to establish closer relationships with teachers. ``Every day I've got one-on-one contact with his teacher as well as the after-school care provider,'' Mrs. Evans says. ``They're getting to know me pretty well, and I'm getting to know them. And ``If I have any questions or need to talk to another parent, I can see them during lunch hour and in the hall. We can compare notes.''
On a warm fall day, kindergartners dressed in shorts and T-shirts spend time in art class before breaking for recess. Later, back in their airy classroom, where construction-paper apples hang from the ceiling on red yarn, they form a circle on the floor and play games identifying colors and shapes. Across a yellow-canopied boardwalk in another room, first-graders sit at their desks, writing.
For specialized activities such as music, art, and speech, students receive instruction from visiting teachers. For field trips, assemblies, and festivals, they travel to their ``home school,'' Pinellas Central, two miles away. After completing second grade here, they will enroll in their neighborhood school.
Initially, Mr. Peters says, parents expressed two concerns: ``Was it going to be a quality school? And what would happen if, after enrolling a child, a parent took another job or the company experienced a major downturn?''
A `showcase' school
In answer to the first question, Peters says, ``The school system is making this a showcase school. They want this to succeed at least as much as we do.'' He responds to the second by explaining to parents that once children are enrolled, they are entitled to stay for the school year, even if a parent's employment status changes.
By 1992, the school will accommodate 150 children. Honeywell also provides a before- and after-school program from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Parents pay $5 a week for before-school care, $25 a week for the after-school program.
Initial estimates put the cost of the facility at $75,000. Actual costs rose to $100,000, Peters says, primarily because of unanticipated government requirements relating to flood control.
Even so, he adds, Honeywell is committed to the school, which is spurring business consortiums in Clearwater and Tampa to consider partnerships. Already it is proving to be a recruiting aid. A West Coast engineer and spouse accepted a job ``on the condition that their daughter be enrolled in our school,'' Peters says.
Speaking of Honeywell's family programs, including the partnership school, he says, ``We know what our average labor costs are, what our training costs are. Our studies show a minimum of $2.50 return for every $1 we invest in this program.''
Whatever the bottom-line benefits, executives and educators believe the biggest beneficiaries are the children.
``The time the child spends driving to and from with parents is a great time to talk,'' says Alison Bellack, coordinator of partnership schools and child care for Pinellas County schools. ``Because of the parental involvement, I think we're going to see a different view about schools from these children. I hope they will value learning a little more. They're certainly going to know their parents value it.''