By JOANNE FOX
Parents looking for a faith-based, preschool or transitional kindergarten program will find one at all 16 Catholic school systems in the Diocese of Sioux City.
According to Dan Ryan, Ed.D., superintendent of schools, most parents are in search of a structured setting to prepare their child for school and many want their kids to be grounded in their faith at this early age.
“These programs play an important role in servicing transitional kindergarten and preschool children in preparing them for kindergarten, while helping most families, in which both parents are working,” he said. “It prepares youngsters to work and socialize in a school setting, which is different than their homes.”
Principal Jean Hyslop explained Emmetsburg Catholic School established a kindergarten in 2000 due to the generosity of Jennifer Myers, who gave two years of teaching without pay.
“After a year off, in 2003 Jennifer started our 4-year-old preschool, Little Irish Preschool, with the same great generosity and she, again, gave us two years of her time,” she said. “Our 4-year-old preschool has continued since then with several different teachers.”
In 2010, Emmetsburg Catholic partnered with the public school and Headstart to start the State Wide Voluntary Preschool Program for 4-year-olds, with Sherry Bredehoeft leading the partnership for the Catholic school.
“The 3-year-old preschool program became a part of our system in 2009, again with the generosity of Mrs. Myers,” Hyslop said. “The 3-year-old and 4-year-old programs continue today.”
Hyslop pointed to a number of benefits to the programs.
“One of the distinctive benefits that we have in our community is that we are able to teach our students at a young age about the Catholic faith,” she said. “However, we welcome students of all faiths. Their parents say they love the Christian, family-like atmosphere.”
An added Pre-K, T-K benefit for Catholic schools is that families with students in these programs often keep those pupils in the school, Ryan noted.
“By offering these programs, it benefits our retention,” he said. “These programs become a natural feeder into our K-12 systems.”
Hyslop echoed those sentiments.
“Our building is a 3-year-old preschool through 8th grade, so young students see the older students as role models,” she said. “The older students enjoy the different antics of the little ones.”
Ryan went on to explain that part of the Office of Education’s strategic plan is to emphasize that parents are the primary educators of their children.
“What better way to enhance that than for a parent to partner with a Catholic school for their child’s pre-school and transitional kindergarten needs,” he said. “I think these programs, in which prayer and faith are integrated, are a great asset for our families and reinforces our parents as the primary faith educators.”
The biggest challenge associated with a preschool program is transportation for the parents, Ryan acknowledged and Hyslop agreed.
“We have half-day programs at Emmetsburg Catholic and it can be a challenge for parents to pick up the students at noon,” she said. “Many of our parents help each other out with transportation.”
Currently, Emmetsburg Catholic is the only site in that community which provides a 3-year-old program, Hyslop reported.
“We are looking to update the classroom and add technology next year that will provide the students with 21st Century skills,” she said. “Our Little Irish Preschool is going to be making some changes, as well, and we are so looking forward to watching those changes unfold.”
The greatest joy with the preschool programs are experiencing the love for learning about their faith and love for each other.
“The wonderful innocence of 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds is a great addition to Emmetsburg Catholic School,” Hyslop said.
Spalding Catholic Elementary School has had a pre-kindergarten program since the fall of 1995.
“The benefits would be giving children the opportunity to socialize with other children, providing many learning experiences in a variety of areas that meet their interests and to have a school experience before kindergarten,” explained Mary Holzman, preschool teacher at the Alton site.
Parents are particularly supportive, the instructor added.
“They like it because the children are able to be around other children, learning social skills,” Holzman said. “Also, pupils are learning core things that prepare them for school.”
As with any institution of learning, there are statutes that must be followed and that can be a challenge, acknowledged Maureen Berg, principal of Spalding Elementary.
“Juggling all the rules and regulations for both a state-run voluntary program and a DHS afternoon preschool program is a task,” she said. “We just completed 18 more hours of required training last fall.”
However, the ability to offer a high quality learning environment for these youngsters is paramount, Berg emphasizd.
“Seeing the joy and excitement in everything that they try and do is rewarding,” she said. “Watching them progress throughout the year and become more confident is equally gratifying.”
Holzman emphasized that “preschool is a fun and exciting age to teach.”
“I love watching the preschoolers learn and having fun at the same time,” she said. “They are seeing some things for the first time and it’s cool to see how they respond to it.”