Thursday, January 19, 2012

Friends Preschool Visit in Review (HHB)

Previously posted here

So, I posted last week about our visit to the local Montessori preschool. As much as I'd hoped to fall in love on the spot, that warm and fuzzy feeling eluded me. The week before that, I'd met a grandfather at the playground. As our kids played together (and we discussed the alarming amount of things we have in common, including their being members of the local Parish), he mentioned that his children and grandchildren all attended (and, in one of the GCs cases, still attend). Because I'd really hoped for the love-connection (and because I'm not super big on the whole idea of preschool anyway), we had planned on interviewing other schools only if we really didnt like the local one and felt called to. Afterwards, I scheduled an appointment with the Friends school, as well as our local Parish's school (which will be a week from Thursday/today).

The Friends School is run by the Quaker faith. Peter and I have a great respect for the Quakers (learn more about them  here), so it is actually fitting that we investigated their preschool. And...

WE.LOVED.IT. It was everything we were looking for, from a preschool standpoint.

When I called to make the appointment, I spoke with the director, and found her warm and welcoming (just as she was in person). In addition to inviting us to tour the school and ask questions, etc, she invited the kids personally (for both the Montessori and St. Stan's preschools, I asked if it was alright to bring the kids; she specifically asked me to bring the kids so that they could play, if we felt comfortable doing so). We arrived about a half hour after school had started.

Walking from the parking lot, we were able to see the Kindergarten room (through the windows) and I loved the set up (very much like our home classroom, just bigger and with more stations) and the children seemed to be enjoying themselves. Initially I had the thought of "oh no, not again" when I opened the door, which was unlocked. But immediately, my feelings from our previous tour (where security had been a problem for me) were settled. Before we'd gone 2 steps, the director was greeting us. (I'll talk more about security in a bit).

She was very nice and walked us down to the 3 year old classroom, where she also was gracious to Bobby and Maya, speaking to them by name and inviting them to take off their coats (and hang them on the peg board). And once they were inside the classroom! Oh, how they loved it. The teachers (there were 3 total for 18 kids) were lovely and encouraged them to play as well. The kids had a blast while Peter and I were able to learn more about their program.

Did I mention that we loved it?

One of the things that I loved was that it felt like I was feeding the teachers the answers to my questions. What they said was what we were looking for. They believe that kids learn primarily through play (CHECK), with some formal/structured "class" type things, like Science and Math, thrown in (CHECK), but that at this age, the primary point of preschool should be socialization with other children and exploring the world through play (CHECK CHECK CHECK). The three hours, two to three times a week, isnt meant to replace education at home (CHECK) but is meant to help give the kids time to be kids with others their age (CHECK). I kept nodding and just wanted to say "You're speaking my language!"

The teachers were certified. The one we spoke with primarily also was trained as an occupational therapist, so when I discussed evaluating the kids, she was right there. And my favorite phrase from that talk? "All kids develop at their own pace. It isn't necessarily that a child is exactly at the norm, but that they are developing at a good rate, on the curve that is right for them." YES YES YES. If kids show developmental delays, they notify parents and help arrange therapies to help the child succeed.

I brought up my worries about security and, rather than try and knock them back with a "we havent lost a child yet" type comment, the teacher said "I completely understand. Other parents have asked about that too when they first visit." Because they are Quaker in foundation, they dont lock the doors. And, because they dont lock the doors, they have a deep awareness of when the door opens. We saw that first hand. They teach the kids to be aware of things outside the windows (and not just from a 'boogyman' type standpoint; there's a fair amount of wildlife like deer, so it's actually quite an educational experience, too) and the teacher told us that often the kids will tell them what they see outside (not strangers, thank goodness, just the wildlife thus far!). The teachers also know if they are expecting students or not; and if not, then they are extra vigilent when the door opens. And the director has a view, so she, too, knows when that door opens (and is right there). Honestly, I had the impression that because their isnt a lock, the staff are MORE aware than the previous experience where there was a lock. I mean, that time, we were right in the thick of it and no one batted an eyelash; here, someone greeted us at the door (and there were eyes on us the entire time we were there- I mean that in a good way, not a creepy way). I actually felt more safe. (I also realize that, lock or not, if someone wants into a school, chances are they will find a way... That doesnt make me feel better about the prospect of sending them to a traditional school setting. But the same can be true about a break in- if someone wants to break into my house and do damge, they could. It's just not worth worrying about that every second of every day.) But, as to the security, I actually felt more secure, and so did Peter.

The ratio was different as well (this was my other big issue). The first school was 7 to 1, with one classroom of 14 to a teacher and an aide. This 3 year old class was set up as 2 classes in a big room with a divider that closes the room into two rooms when need be. For open play, the kids are together in one room, with the 2 teachers/1 aide or 3 teachers. When the rooms are divided into 9 students each, there is 1 teacher in each, with the aide/teacher floating between the two. So, the ratio drops to about 6 to 1. (Looking for the PA regs, it's 10 to 1 as the requirement). While it's only 1 kid different between the two we've interviewed so far, it actually is a bigger difference. If a child has to be removed for some reason and an adult leaves, in the previous scenario, that leaves 1 adult with 13 remaining kids; in this one, it leaves 2 adults with 17 kids (or about a 1:8.5 ratio). Add to that, a floating aide or the director comes in until the other adult returns, and you are still looking at 3 adults. So, that made me feel better as well.

Educationally, I think the kids would learn wherever. But, so far, that warm, fuzzy feeling I was looking for? Yep, found it at the Friend's School. We are still going to interview the local, Catholic parish school*. We feel like it is important to look there as well. If the feelings of warm & fuzzy are present there too, we are going to have quite a decision to make!

Oh, and both the Quaker and Catholic 3 year old programs have another big thing: 2 day programs. For the Quaker school, there is a 2 day and 3 day to choose from; the Catholic preschool is just 2 day. But, one of my major heartbreaks is the idea of them gone for 3 mornings a week; 2 days is much more easy to handle, I think. And the teacher at the Friends said that most of their 2 day kids are "young" 3s (meaning summer/early fall birthdays), so Bobby and Maya, as September babies, would be truly among peers, versus older threes in the 3 day program.

So, we have a contender! I'll update on our remaining interview after it happens next week!

*Local Parish: So, we live within walking distance to the local Catholic church (and school), but because we've been so active in our previous parish, we've been attending there and havent switched membership over.  Our current parish was just told that, as part of the reorg, the school would be closing and combining with another parish. If we decide to send the kids to our local parish school, we'll most likely be changing parishes from our current to our local. So that is also a consideration as we explore the school.


Joanna said...

So glad you found a nice place that you feel comfortable with. This is a big decision and you need to feel good about it. Yey!!

Queenie. . . said...

Michelle, I've loved your preschool posts. I'm going through the same thing (but trying to do it from 3000 miles away from the city we'll be living in next fall), so it's really helpful to read.

I hope you will consider, though, removing some of the information from your post--the fact the Quaker school doesn't lock its doors, the link to the school, the identifying information about the last school you mentioned and how close it is to your house. I don't mean to be neurotic, but you have lovely children and there are crazy people who lurk on the internet. It's always better, I think, not to give them ideas of where they might prey on children, and your children in particular.

Ms. J said...

I have to echo a bit of what Queenie said, with lots of love . . . because your blog is public, I wouldn't reveal where the kids go to school. There are too many pervs, wierdos, and people would do harm. Clearly, the school folks are super-vigilant,and I am comfortable with your trust in them (hell, I'd send my kids there based on your review!!!) A cousin of ours is a social worker, and says she cringes when she spots decals on people's cars with their kids names, schools, sports teams, etc. She's worked with sexually assaulted children and said it's giving too much identifying information to feed a perv, and help them choose who they will prey upon next.

I guess I didn't know anything about Quaker schools, and that they were open to non-Quakers? They sound lovely! Wonder if there are any around my corner of the world. I so wish we'd have sent LP to the school she is in now, last year. Clapping my hands eagerly that we will be sending Peanut two mornings a week come fall, hee hee!

Love you, hon!

Michele said...

Thanks Q and J: I think I deleted the 'local' referenes, although we are listed so, if someone wanted to find us, they could.