At Aquinas Academy, the preschool program for 3- to 5-year-olds features flexible scheduling along with activities, classes and faith formation that make the young children part of the school’s overall program, according to Joe Rice, principal.
“They feel like they are part of the school-age program because they are part of it,” he said, and that encourages transition to the school’s full-day kindergarten program when the parents and staff see they are ready.
About 90 percent of the preschool students stay at Aquinas for kindergarten, Rice said.
There are half-day and full-day schedules in preschool, which add to the program’s flexibility.
“We try to accommodate as many family needs as we can in the preschool program while also meeting the students’ academic needs,” he said.
Children take special classes in art, music, library, computer (which includes coding), physical education and Spanish, Rice said.
“They get used to changing classes; they move with their teachers. They are included in Masses and assemblies. They attend events with guest speakers, if the topic is age-appropriate, and they have field trips,” he said.
Faith formation is a significant part of the curriculum.
The children have third-grade prayer partners, according to Bonnie Bialecki, who is in her second year with the program and works with the preschool 4 five-day program.
“We also have a prayer corner in the classroom where we pray every day and talk about readings from the Bible,” she said.
Maggie Zimmerman, who is in her fourth year with the program, described it as “a faith-filled, developmentally appropriate, thematic curriculum that is geared toward the students’ interests.”
Zimmermann, who works with the preschool 3 and 4 children, enjoys teaching religion.
“Our religion series, ‘Stories of God’s Love,” teaches them how to live a life like Jesus, and it shares Bible stories with the children on their level,” she said. “It helps them realize they are special in their own way just like Jesus was.”
She said they learn their way around the school and become comfortable with the building and with the older students.
“Not only do they have older students to look up to, but their prayer partners set a wonderful example for them at school Mass and other functions,” Zimmerman said.
Bialecki says the program is designed to prepare the children for full-day kindergarten at Aquinas.
“They learn the skills necessary to be independent learners,” she said. “The focus is on social skills, academic skills and organizational skills. We do a lot of problem-solving social skills.”
Rice said there is constant communication between the teachers and parents.
“We see the parents almost every day so parents can check on how their child is doing,” he said.
Zimmerman said the program is a priority at Aquinas.
“The program is growing each year. It is a blessing to watch the little ones grow in their Catholic education,” she said.
— Jerry Zufelt