School spirit: Year-round goodwill at St. Peter’s Episcopal Preschool

“From its inception, SPEP has been a study in faith and grace, and the entire congregation is dedicated to this ministry,” said Monica Ruckle, church member and mother of a preschooler. As part of the ministry, St. Peter’s church members donate money to the school, and a community liaison from the church seeks out scholarship candidates.

Currently in its third year, SPEP opens its doors to children ages 2½ to 5 and has 14 students enrolled. However, that’s something they’d like to see change. Licensed to accommodate 28 students, the school’s director, Toni Taylor, would love to see a jump in numbers. A boost in enrollment would mean adding another instructor, but that’s a change Taylor would relish.

At this time, the church has one scholarship available, and Taylor foresees others available in the future, thanks to fundraising efforts that are under way. Recently the church published a cookbook, and all proceeds benefit the preschool. “Play With Your Food” can be purchased at the church office for $15. From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5, the church will host its second annual Christmas Market, a craft fair, to raise funds for the school. A golf tournament is also in the works for springtime.
Mary Brady, the preschool’s teacher, has been with the school since it opened and said she has “loved every minute of it.”

Described by parents and coworkers as “incredibly loving” and “so good with the kids,” Brady is pursuing a degree in child psychology and is a member of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
SPEP follows the Adventures in Learning curriculum provided by the state, and both Brady and Taylor contribute additional input that they feel will help prepare students for kindergarten.

The preschoolers’ schedule begins with washing hands upon entry into the classroom. An hour of “free play” follows. When discussing the playtime, Taylor commented, “That is where children learn the most; they learn through socializing and through playing.”

After playing, the children have “circle time,” when Brady reads to them, sings with them, etc.; a snack follows, with the children picking up after themselves, which teaches independence, according to Taylor. Arts and crafts time follows, before going outside, weather permitting. Lunch starts at 11:30. Depending on their enrollment plan, parents pick up their children either at noon or 2:30.

When asked how the preschool has contributed to preparing her daughter for kindergarten, Ruckle said, “SPEP has taught our daughter that learning is fun. If asked what she learned at school today, Isabel will say with resolve, ‘We don’t learn at my school, we just play.’ We are proud that she is 4 and in the beginnings of reading already, much to the credit of Miss Mary and all who have been involved in her instruction over the past two years.”

Every Wednesday, the preschoolers are treated to chapel time with Teri Daily, church vicar. A former pediatrician, Daily tells them familiar Bible stories and sings with them. “The kids love ‘1-2-3 Jesus Loves Me,’” Taylor said.

Listing some ways that SPEP is special, Taylor noted, “I think our families set us apart. Everybody is always willing to help out in any way they can. And there’s the scholarship program, of course. I just think we’re a little jewel.”

With the holidays approaching, several events are planned for the preschoolers and their families. In November, Nathan Ziegler will drop by with his pygmy goats, and later in the month, the school will host a Family Feast for the children and their families to celebrate Thanksgiving together. December will deliver a pseudo snow day with kiddie swimming pools filled with confetti for the children to play in. Before dismissing for Christmas break, they will have a gift exchange with their classmates.

To acknowledge those who are important in their preschoolers’ lives, the school plans special days to honor mothers, fathers and grandparents throughout the school year. And to celebrate the preschoolers’ accomplishments during the year, SPEP holds a “graduation” ceremony at the end of each spring semester.

The holiday spirit felt throughout the year at this preschool is perhaps best expressed by Ruckle when explaining her favorite thing about sending daughter Isabel to SPEP: “I know she is learning that the world is a good place, because she will spend her day with people who love her almost as much as we do. And if she can’t be home with me, she deserves to be with those who will give her the best of themselves.”