Lowell Area Schools started an early childhood development program in 1999 which was housed in the Runciman building. Since then the preschool portion grew enough to be moved to Bushnell Elementary School in 2010. Growth has continued and starting in January teachers and students will report to a new building, the former St. Mary’s Building located at 320 Amity St. SE. For several months renovations have been underway to prepare the space for its new purpose.
Growth Spurs Move
With the addition of new subdivisions being built or recently added throughout the community Lowell Area Schools (LAS) has seen an increase in student population and anticipates continued growth in the coming years. Curiosity Corner Preschool Director Kathy Burch has been in her position for over four years. In this time preschool enrollment has gone from a little over 70 students to over 150 with all spots being filled each year.
The preschool program has added dedicated aids in each classroom as well as an extended 4s class which increases the day by an hour and a half and includes children eating lunch at school. This allows parents to have an additional option of getting their children ready for full day kindergarten. Both of these additions in recent years have come as a result of growing enrollment.
“The move will open five classrooms at Bushnell Elementary, providing more space for programming and room for new students. Both the preschool program and Bushnell will benefit from the move.” says LAS Superintendent Greg Pratt. Currently the preschool program has two three-year old classrooms and two dedicated to four-year old students as well as a room used as an office. There are five classrooms and one gym in the new building where preschool will be the only program within its walls. Eventually the building will be available to use in the evening as others throughout the district are used, but that’s not likely to happen until the start of next school year.
The fifth classroom, which will remain empty for the time being is anticipated to be filled for the 2020-2021 school year. Burch says she is “humbled” that the district feels the preschool program is ready for a building of its own and trusts her to branch out. She says she will miss the resources being at Bushnell provided. If she had a question, finding help was a walk down a hallway away. The people with whom she has shared the halls have become an extended part of her preschool family leaves Burch feeling both happy and sad about the change.
The building where Curiosity Corner Preschool will call home in the new year will be called the Yeiter Learning Center. Donald and Betty Yeiter have been supporters of LAS for decades. Don passed away several years ago and Betty remains supportive of district efforts. She was a teacher in the district for many years.
A fun fact Burch shares is that Yeiter was her reading teacher in Alto years ago. Burch has since thought of Yeiter as one of her favorite teachers throughout all of her schooling and thinks that it is awesome to be in a building named for her family.
The building, having been used as a school in the past, was already set up with classrooms and an open space to be used as a gym. However it did receive a facelift by way of a new roof, new flooring, paint throughout the interior, sidewalks, parking, and a playground area. There will also be a dedicated office with an administrative assistant available for a couple of hours each morning. Jennifer Haywood who also works in the Bushnell office will split her time between the two buildings. “I’m excited about [having a space to] see my families on a daily basis.” says Burch. Her office at Bushnell has been in a room off the media center making it harder for preschool parents to stop in and ask questions.
A dedicated exit and entrance to a fenced in play area will allow students to safely spend time outdoors. The preschool has applied for a grant to fund playground equipment. The hope is to be able to install something in summer 2020. Until then, students will have non-stationary items to play with outdoors such as play houses and other elements to climb on.
The Toddlers on Track for School (TOTS) program, which Burch also directs, supplements the efforts of the preschool. Through TOTS weekly playgroups and family participation classes in art, cooking, and gymnastics are offered to further early childhood education. These activities have been taking place at the Runciman building, where LAS administration is also housed, and will remain in that location.
Different Building, Same Overall Routine
Parents have been informed of the move to a new building. Curiosity Corner will delay coming back from the two-week break by one week to ensure classrooms are ready and all of the finishing touches are in place. Students are expected to report to their new rooms beginning January 13. Parents and students will be able to attend an open house on January 10 so everyone can start to become familiar with a new classroom and of course those involved in the classroom will be eager to show off their new space.
Most of the routine parents and students are used to at Bushnell will transfer to the Yeiter Learning Center. The biggest change will be parents coming inside the building and into the gym area for pick up. Burch has sent a letter to current parents outlining what to expect in the new year.
Curiosity Corner Preschool will start the new decade at the newly renovated and named Yeiter Learning Center. Look for photos after the first of the year once classrooms have been set up and are ready to welcome new students. For those looking to enroll students for the 2020-2021 school year, look for registration to open in early March.