On Tuesday morning at Clarkfield Area Charter School, 13 new students, ages 3-4, lined up and marched to their new room on their first official day as CACS's first preschool class.
The students had already met each other, and teacher Heidi Huseby, and had been acclimated to each other and their new classroom with an open house and orientations over the last couple weeks.
This class, one of two new preschool programs being offered by CACS this year, is by far the largest with 13 students. They will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, every week, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
The second program is for 4-5 year-olds. As of last Friday, that program had four students enrolled. They meet for the entire school day (8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.), three days a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
"It's been in our strategic plan, that we wanted to, at some point, operate an early childhood program. Once we knew that there would no longer be a preschool program at H.A. Hagg, we started working on coming up with a program," said CACS lead teacher Kathy Koetter. "So, it's kind of been our project over the summer."
With the second and third grade classes combining this year at CACS, the resources the school would need to start a preschool program became available too. A room opened up and Huseby—a second-grade teacher last year who already has several years of preschool experience—was ready to pilot the new program.
Interest was instant. A late July posting on the school's facebook page drew calls the next day. Within a week, Koetter had already assembled the two classes rosters. With the large numbers in the younger class, an aide—Melinda Hedman, also already having preschool experience—was hired.
"Parents were excited, thankful," said Koetter from her office located just down the hall from the new preschool room. "And everything has just kind of worked itself out". Just last week Koetter learned that the Minnesota Head Start Association, through the Prairie Five Community Action Council of Yellow Medicine County would be collaborating with CACS's program.
Head Start develops programs and practices that target families with young children in a constant effort to help them succeed, while also acting as an advocate for low income children and families
The program will provide, in Clarkfield, special curriculum for young children and their parents and financial help with preschool tuition.
Outside of tuition, CACS is funding the preschool program themselves through grants and fundraisers.
Koetter believes the benefits of the program to the school and community are worth the effort. "It's a good program to offer... Yes, that's how we look at it: as a feeder-program to our school. It lets the students get used to everything—and the parents as well. Then, it's another service we can offer the community also."
Page 2 of 2 - Also adding to the list of new services being offered to the community through CACS, is an after school program; meant to keep students engaged from the time school lets out, until most parents return from work at 5:30 p.m.
Both programs act to broaden CACS's base in the community and their contact with students. The school has now been open for six years.
Said Koetter, "It's exciting. These programs help everyone: students, families, the community. I'm sure we'll make adjustments as we go, but right now, it's fun getting started."