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Learning through play

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CIRCLE TIME:Teacher Patti Losure introduces her students to one another by saying names and ages at Kendall Elementary Thursday morning. Each student in Losure's Little Giants class was four years old.
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ALL SMILES: Little Giants Director Kerri Wortinger comforts a child in the classroom's rocking chair on the first day of preschool Thursday.

BY Sara Barker - sbarker@chronicle-tribune.com

On a sunny Thursday morning, four-year-old minds were hard at work learning their classmates’ names inside Kendall Elementary.

Thursday was the first day of school for Marion Community Schools’ Little Giants preschool. Tennis shoes with rhinestones and brand-new sneakers walked down the hall to classrooms, which overlooked a purple and gold playground set.

On a Mickey Mouse emblazoned bulletin board, preschool faculty had posted curriculum and rules for kids.

A sheet stating that the kids will learn to recognize their own written name and learn to handle books by the end of the school year was side-by-side with a message for families.

In the message, Little Giants shared what the rules are in its classrooms, and encouraged parents to use the same language encouraging the rules at home, like praising their children for keeping themselves safe.

In the same way Little Giants has laid out rules for kids to take care of themselves and those around them, it emphasizes the importance of play in students' everyday lives.

Stacy Thompson, who has been teaching at Little Giants for four years, said play was the “heartbeat” of a high-quality preschool.

“I feel like Little Giants gives them a safe space to play and to try new things, socialize, experiment and just grow to get ready for kindergarten,” Thompson said.

While Thompson’s class is made up of children whose families qualify for Early Head Start, a program that gives free preschool to qualifying low-income families, this is also the second year Little Giants has qualified to receive On My Way Pre-K funding, a state service that also provides free preschool to the same level of income for families.

Little Giants Director Kerri Wortinger said with this being the preschool’s second year with On My Way Pre-K that is has allowed them to know how to enroll and teach students who qualify.

“Last year, we were learning,” Wortinger said.

However, On My Way only provides a certain number of spots for the county, and facilities involved in the program take as many as they can. Deb Hendricks, who coordinates enrollment for Little Giants, said as of Thursday the preschool had 60 students on its waiting list.

Hendricks saw this as reflective of how Marion prioritizes early-childhood education.

“Families want their students to be prepared for kindergarten … but often times families can’t afford tuition for preschool,” Hendricks said.

With the additional preschool support from the state, though, Hendricks said Little Giants was able to have at least two more classrooms.

Not only do the extra seats let Little Giants support more kids, but Wortinger said more parents can use the resources the preschool provides.

Little Giants is still enrolling. Those wishing to enroll can call Hendricks at (765) 651-2080 ext. 418.

Off and running

Corporation wide, the first day probably couldn't have been better, at least from an operations standpoint.

“We had a really good day,” said David Khalouf, director of operations at Marion Community Schools. 

Other than some normal first day hiccups, Khalouf said buses ran on time and each school building was ready for students.

Khalouf attributed this to “over-planning” and a reliable staff. To prepare for bus routes, the operations director said drivers took dry runs of their routes and contacted parents ahead of the first day to tell them approximately what time their children would be picked up.

“The people we have in the transportation department did a really good job of getting prepared,” Khalouf said.

What some may not realize is that a bus schedule doesn't rely solely on a driver being on time. It also rests on parents and children being on time and learning the schedule too.

“It's nice to have all the parents on board,” Khalouf said.

Managing Editor Spencer Durham contributed to this article.