A Choice Of Preschool Options Available In Emmetsburg
(Editor’s Note: The following is the fourth and final part in a series of articles on preschools in Palo Alto County. Preschool photos can be found on Page 11 of today’s “Democrat.”)
Parents of young children in Emmetsburg are fortunate to have their choice of preschools in town–three of which are sponsored by local churches. Currently, St. Paul Christian Preschool, Little Learners Preschool, Emmetsburg Catholic School, Noah’s Ark Preschool, and Head Start enroll youngsters in their preschool programs.
Emmetsburg Catholic School’s Little Irish Preschool first started in the fall of 2003 by then-preschool teacher Jennifer Myers. Myers taught at the preschool for five years before Sherry Bredehoeft assumed the position of teacher. Bredehoeft is assisted in the classroom by aide Deb Bormann and Myers, who volunteers her time.
“We started the preschool in order to give little kids a Christian education, and to give those planning to attend Emmetsburg Catholic School a good beginning and strong foundation,” said Jennifer Myers. “The Catholic Diocese is focused on giving kids a Christian background.”
The preschool is currently in the process of becoming licensed by Iowa Quality Preschool Program Standards (QPPS).
This year, 13 four- and five-year olds are enrolled in classes, which meet Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 8 to 11:30 a.m.
Children arrive and check-in for free-choice time. If boys and girls arrive early enough, they may participate in the morning walking program in Corrigan Hall with other Catholic School students. Throughout the morning, there are teacher-led activities and one-on-one time for working on individual needs. Students practice writing theirs names and learning their phone numbers, the alphabet, and counting to 30 by the time they leave for Kindergarten. Following play time, the students enjoy calendar time, recess and snack, and large and small group time. Youngsters work on large muscle activities, math and writing readiness, and finger play, songs, and dramatic play.
Time spent at preschool also allows any special needs to be identified and addressed, such as issues with speech, attention span, and other areas.
“We want our preschoolers to just become aware of words and be prepared socially to attend Kindergarten,” said Sherry Bredehoeft. “If children have a strong beginning, hopefully they will continue on that way.”
Bredehoeft added, “Prayer is also a huge part of our day. We pray when we first arrive, when we eat, and when we leave. There’s a nice Christian emphasis, and we have the freedom to focus on that. It’s all about character.”
Funding to attend Little Irish Preschool is available through Palo Alto/Kossuth County (PAK) Empowerment.
“We’re in the process of writing a state grant that would help us go to an all-day preschool,” Bredehoeft explained. “If we would receive the grant, our preschool would be funded by the state, and the money would be administered through the public school district.”
While the future might involve an increase in involvement with the public school system, Little Irish Preschool is already working with the other local preschools.
“All of the preschools work together,” said Bredehoeft. “We often collaborate. We all want to increase our enrollment, but we all get along and even get together and talk about what we’re doing.”
Head Start was established in 1965 in order to provide a preschool education to children from low-income families throughout the nation. Emmetsburg’s Head Start classroom has been around since that time, as well. The current Head Start classroom is located at the Iowa Lakes Community College campus in Emmetsburg. Vicki Hurley serves as the Education Coordinator for Head Start, and Jacky Hersleff is preschool teacher. An assistant teacher and a cook also work at the local Head Start classroom.
“The fact that we offer breakfast and lunch to our students is one thing that makes us stand out,” said Vicki Hurley.
This year, 18 children (ages three to five) are enrolled in the program. The children meet five days a week, Monday through Friday, from 8:10 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
“One of the nice things about our program is that we offer WRAP Around Child Care for children with working parents or parents who are taking college classes,” Hurley stated. “Head Start is a federally funded program. None of our parents pay a fee.”
Head Start utilizes the Creative Curriculum. Children are assessed three times a year. Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) parties are held three times a year, as well. There is a strong parent component to Head Start with mothers and fathers meeting with educators six times a year to discuss their children’s’ progress. A Dad’s Time is also scheduled twice each year to encourage male involvement in the children’s lives.
“Head Start was just awarded the highest accreditation you can receive by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NEYC),” related Hurley. “The NEYC has pretty high standards, and it was a lengthy process to get accredited.”
A typical day for the youngsters involves signing-in, playing with toys, and then working on the calendar. The children eat breakfast before dividing into two small groups. There is also time for recess, and maybe a chance to play outdoors. On not-so-nice days, the preschoolers can visit the Smith Wellness Center to play in the gymnasium or swim in the pool. After lunch, it is time for small groups and time to rest. Table and floor activities are planned in the afternoon for work on matching, numbers, literacy, and music and movement. On Monday, the class walks to the Emmetsburg Public Library for story time.
“Iowa Lakes Community College has been wonderful,” said Jacky Hersleff. “They take very good care of us. Because of our connection to the college, we sometimes have Early Childhood Education students or nursing students come in to do observations.”
Noah’s Ark Preschool, located inside New Hope Community Chapel on West First Street in Emmetsburg, has been a continually growing success, according to preschool teacher Jennifer Biddle. Biddle is assisted in the classroom by aides Erica Harris and Brenda Lowe, as well as other volunteers.
“We’re entering our third year of preschool, and we’ve grown quite a bit over the years,” said Jennifer Biddle.
Biddle shared that the preschool started as an idea the New Hope congregation had to utilize their large church building and give back to the community.
“We saw a need for good childcare and preschool education,” Biddle shared. “That first year, we had five kids. The next year we had 20 kids, and this year we have 32.”
The preschool first started out in the church’s basement before growing too large for its accommodations. The church’s pews were sold and folding chairs purchased, which has allowed the preschool to be moved into the more spacious chapel.
“It’s been such a blessing and such a growing experience,” said Biddle. “We’re really having an impact in the community. Our main focus is that we offer a quality program. We participate with Iowa Quality Preschool Program Standards, which the state has set up to insure that standards are followed.”
Four- and five-year olds gather between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, while three-year olds meet from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.
When they first arrive, children sign-in, enjoy free choice play, and then circle time. After snack, activities and lessons are held. Following lunch, it’s rest time and then center time. Any lessons are then finished up.
“We have a lot of child initiated learning, which allows for a lot of flexibility,” explained Biddle. “We also use the combination of the Creative Curriculum and a faith-based curriculum. However, families do not need to attend our church in order to enroll their children in the preschool.”
Funding for preschool tuition is available through PAK Empowerment, DHS (Department of Human Services), and grants and fundraising opportunities through the preschool.
“I think the strength of this community is that we have so many preschools,” Biddle concluded. “Because there are so many little children in the area, I really haven’t seen any competition. I believe our growth is testament to our quality preschool program.”