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Director ‘in awe’ of growing preschool program

Written on August 28th, 2009

Collaborating closely with parents a rich opportunity, she says

Marianne Schenk says she’s in awe of the growth the preschool program she directs has experienced within the last year. In response to demand, openings for the program have been doubled for the coming school year.

“(The growth) tells us God is continuing to open the doors and he has a plan for this program,” Schenk tells OACS News.

“We’re reaching out in areas where I didn’t anticipate.”

Halton Hills Christian School, formerly known as Georgetown District Christian School, launched a preschool program in September, 2008.

The school obtained its license for the program at the end of July of the same year so it only had a month to promote the preschool, according to principal Marianne Vangoor.

Harmony Preschool began at 45 per cent of its capacity with a teacher hired for 20 per cent of full-time teaching. As director, Schenk filled in the remaining gaps to run the program.

Vangoor notes that although the start wasn’t promising, the school decided to forge ahead with the initiative.

By year’s end the program had grown to 81 per cent capacity, which prompted the decision to expand, adding more teaching time and opening additional spots for students.

The current teacher is now at 60 per cent with an educational assistant at 40 per cent.

Schenk will be able to devote more time to her role as director, as opposed to taking on a wide variety of tasks as she did last year, says Vangoor.

The preschool is now at about 90 per cent capacity with 27 families enrolled.

Vangoor says what’s most exciting about all of this is that the number of new families at the school.

“We’re hoping to build long-term relationships with these people,” she adds.

The preschool program is theme-based, drawing on concepts from a wide variety of early childhood education approaches.

Because it is located within the larger school, the preschool has a broad array of resources on which to draw, from the school library to the educational experiences of other classes, such as the Grade 4 music class, which helps make for a rich program for the preschool students, Schenk notes.

In keeping with the Christian emphasis of the school, foundational Christian concepts are underscored throughout the year. These concepts include that the students are part of God’s family and world and important players in His story.

Building the social skills of the children is a significant component of the program. There is no computer in the classroom, which encourages individual play.

Instead, group play time is used to help children learn how to express feelings appropriately, deal with conflict constructively and increase their self-confidence.

One aspect that Schenk is excited about is the opportunity to get to know the families of the children, with the goal of learning how to better support the parents as well as the children.

“(As a preschool) we’re likely the first introduction to the school system, so we get to give (the parents) the encouragement they need and at the same time, meet the needs of the children,” she says. “It’s just incredibly rich, and a great feeling.”

Vangoor recommends other Christian schools investigate whether there’s a need for a preschool program in their community.

While it can be a significant amount of work to put the program in place, and the investment must be made before it’s known whether it will pay off, it could be as rewarding as it’s proving to be for Halton Hills, she says.

Even if numbers are initially small, it’s likely they could increase as families talk and awareness of the program grows, says Vangoor.