By Steve Woodhouse Editor
The Journal Express
---- — Another school year is drawing to a close and inevitably, thoughts of the fall linger in the backs of most parents’ minds. For parents of preschool age children in Knoxville, there are options available.
Religious-based preschool is available at Trinity Lutheran, First United Methodist and, starting in the fall, Celebrate Community Church. Though the preschool is based at the church, these schools still meet educational demands and requirements from the State of Iowa. Stepping Stones Early Learning Center offers parents the same services, without any religious affiliation.
Trinity Lutheran is licensed for up to 30 children, between the ages of 3-5. Like all preschools, the Iowa Department of Human Services inspects it annually to ensure that it complies with all of the State’s requirements. When the teacher left the preschool last year, Trinity Lutheran was closed for the remainder of the year. At least six months’ notice must be given to the State before a new teacher takes over.
“We kind of had to rush everything,” Luanne Leavengood with Trinity Lutheran said. She added that it can be a challenge, as requirements constantly change.
“Preschools used to be a lot less regulated,” Leavengood said. Some of the regulations she agrees with, including inspections by the Fire Marshal and tests for radon. Other requirements, such as having a licensed teacher, can be difficult. The preschool is only open part-time, and someone with that level of education, willing to work for such compensation, is hard to find.
“There’s only so much people can pay,” Leavengood said.
Money the preschool receives is tied to a preschool’s quality, based on the Quality Rating System. All of Knoxville’s preschools, and others in Marion County, receive money from Early Childhood Iowa, formerly known as Empowerment. The name was recently changed. As of July 1, Marion County Early Childhood Iowa will merge with Jasper and Poweshiek. To receive funding, a preschool must actively pursue the money and a quality rating.
“Anything we do has to serve kids 0-5,” Martha Popson with Early Childhood Iowa said. She added that religion plays no factor in this funding. In Marion County, the program funds children at eight preschools and 62 children overall. The number of children served has decreased since Iowa instituted a state-funded four-year-old preschool program.
“We’ve always been the funder of last resort,” Popson added. Early Childhood Iowa pays up to $75 per month per child. Popson does not foresee changes coming to the program with the merger after July 1.
In Knoxville, Stepping Stones has been designated as the school district’s choice for the state-funded four-year-old preschool, though any preschool could take advantage of this, according to Stepping Stones Director Pam Mahoney.
Mahoney said the State’s requirement is for 10 hours of non-religious instruction per week. Religious-based preschools could offer this, but they would have to meet for longer periods of time. All teachers must have an elementary education degree with an early childhood endorsement and accreditation with the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Stepping Stones meets four mornings a week from 8-11 a.m. Before the Legislature’s action, the classes met for three.
Mahoney, who previously ran the VA Child Care Center, said degrees have been required for teachers for years and that research shows that the education level of the staff equates to its quality. There are 52 four-year-olds taking preschool at Stepping Stones.
“Children are born ready to learn,” Mahoney said. Brain development between 0-3 is extensive. To try to provide the best service to parents, Stepping Stones teachers meet with parents before classes begin. Conferences are held at least twice a year.
Mahoney said the state-funded program has put all four-year-olds on an even level now. Prior to this, not every parent could afford preschool. Early Childhood Iowa money, received by Stepping Stones today, is utilized for three-year-olds, for the most part.
“I think we’ve got an excellent program that really aligns (with elementary education),” Mahoney said.
The newest option for preschool in Knoxville will be Celebrate Community Church. Lynn Oberbroeckling is the director of this school. She has 15 years of previous experience with First United Methodist’s Montgomery Street Preschool. (A message was left for Montgomery Street for this article, but the call was not returned.)
Oberbroeckling said she was approached by the community and church to start a preschool. These parents wanted a preschool with a Christian aspect. Three-year-olds will meet 2.5 hours twice a week, and four-year-olds will attend for 2.5 hours three times a week.
Though Celebrate is opening this school, Oberbroeckling “believes every preschool in Knoxville is a quality program.” This is just another choice to help Knoxville families find the right one for their family.
It was during Trinity Lutheran’s hiatus that the discussion began. Like Trinity Lutheran, some of the time the children spend in preschool at Celebrate will include Bible lessons, scriptures and prayer, in addition to preparing the children to be ready for kindergarten. Oberbroeckling said she is eager to return to working with children.
“There’s not a day that I don’t laugh,” she said. She added that preschool teachers get to color, dance and play trucks. They don’t have to be a “grown-up” all the time.
With the other preschool options already available, Oberbroeckling understands the concern about saturating Knoxville. Support from the Celebrate congregation, and a feeling that God is urging them to do this, convinced Celebrate to move forward.
Trinity Lutheran is open two days a week and one-half day on Friday. Leavengood says their lessons include being nice to people and “Jesus time.” She added that the education the children receive at Trinity Lutheran is so valuable to parents that they “juggle” a lot to get their children to school.
Preschool customers include those who do not attend church regularly, and those who have financial issues. Trinity Lutheran feels as though it offers hope and faith, and plants a seed for children to find a spiritual life.
“It’s just to the point it’s hard for the private (preschools) to meet the requirements,” Leavengood said. “I just think the playing field needs to be level.”
For more information about Trinity Lutheran Preschool, call 641-842-4334; Celebrate, 641-891-2305; Stepping Stones, 641-828-7837.