GREENFIELD — The preschoolers spent the morning pairing names with faces.
Thursday was full of introductions for the youngsters as they learned who their new classmates and teachers are, and when assistant superintendent Christy Hilton asked if the kiddos remembered her name, a little hand shot up.
“Dr. Woman!” Jordynn Deckard declared with certainty. The grownups in the room laughed.
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On Thursday, as Greenfield-Central students and teachers returned to class after Christmas break, they welcomed a handful of new little learners to the school system. The district opened its doors this week to a new preschool housed in its educational services center, which also houses the corporation’s new alternative school.
Nine 3- to 5-year-olds are enrolled in the program for the spring semester, and that number is expected to grow to at least 27 students by fall with plans to expand in the future. The school, open Mondays through Fridays, offers both part-time and full-time child care options.
Greenfield-Central is the third county school district to implement its own preschool program, citing limited state-licensed options in the area. Last fall, Mt. Vernon opened its Mini-Marauder early learning academy and welcomed 85 students in August. Southern Hancock has had pre-school programming for several years.
There are only a handful of preschool sites across the county: a few ministries teach preschool; the Greenfield Parks Department hosts a class, and there are two licensed child care centers focused on early childhood learning in Greenfield.
Greenfield-Central is able to help fill that void, Superintendent Harold Olin said, especially for its staff members.
When Greenfield-Central Schools purchased the building at 700 N. Broadway St. next to the high school last school year, educators began brainstorming whether opening a preschool in the space would benefit staff members. For years, employees have voiced concerns about difficulty finding childcare with a focus on early education.
A portion of the building — which most recently housed the First Church of God — was renovated over the summer to house the district’s alternative school, which provides a flexible learning environment to about 30 high school students.
At that time, educators decided to open a preschool catering to district staff members, though families who don’t work for the corporation may also enroll their students, Olin said. The cost for a child to attend is $100 per week.
In recent weeks, district officials put the finishing touches on the portion of the building that houses the preschool, and on Thursday, director Kari Sherman welcomed the inaugural class.
Just nine children are enrolled in the preschool now — the perfect number for starting out, Sherman said.
Nearly 30 families are interested in enrolling their students for next school year, and there’s room in the building to expand even further if demand exceeds the space, Olin said.
Now, educators are taking steps to become a licensed preschool site through the state, a process expected to take a few months.
The space is equipped with a sensory activity table, a toy kitchenette, a reading corner and plenty of colored pencils, markers and crayons.
The youngsters will spend their days exploring the classroom and engaging in activities they’re interested in, from art to science.
The district hired Sherman, who makes a salary of about $43,000, earlier this year to help launch the preschool, and she’s charged with shaping the curriculum. She comes to the district with plenty of experience after spending the past few years teaching at preschool centers in Lawrence and Indianapolis, Hilton said.
She’ll follow an early childhood education approach that allows students to direct their own learning, with the teacher following each child’s interest. The approach encourages students to find the answers to their questions rather than seeking them from their teacher, Sherman said.
Organizers also plan to collaborate with Greenfield-Central’s advanced child development class by inviting high school students to visit the preschool to complete coursework that requires them to work with children.
Sherman is looking forward to watching her students grow through those experiences.
“It’s always been a passion of mine to help students learn,” she said. “I’m excited to watch this expand.”
To learn more: Parents who are interested in signing up may contact Kari Sherman at 317-477-4114.