Jessi Nash and Jill Williams know what it’s like to try to search for a preschool as families with household income levels that fall in the middle. For those that do seem attainable, the wait list can be long.
“There are a few preschools here in very specific niches — there’s low income and pretty high incomes but it’s hard to find something that’s kind of in that middle ground,” Williams said. “Having experienced that myself and Jessi experiencing it … it was a fun idea to consider putting that together ourselves and what that would look like and how we could meet that need.
“It’s been really fun to build something that Philomath needs.”
Say hello to the Roots Early Learning Center, a new preschool that falls under the umbrella of The Refuge church and is located at 1947 College St.
Nash, who serves as center director and teacher, and Williams, children’s pastor and teacher, will host an open house on Friday, June 18 from 4-7 p.m. Parents can get a look at the classrooms, find out more about the school and even win a raffle prize supplied by a partnering business. More information can be found on the preschool’s Facebook page.
Nash and Williams, who are sisters, both said they can’t remember the exact moment when they decided to move forward with bringing a new preschool to Philomath. They had discussed their dream on previous occasions but initially thought it would be a couple of years out before materializing — not a couple of months.
But certain things in their lives started to line up and in the background, Nash said Gerry Alston, a senior pastor at The Refuge, asked every once in a while, “when are you doing the preschool?”
“I don’t fully know how it came about but it was ‘bam, this is happening, let’s do this,’” Nash said, “and then the church was 100% behind it from the get-go and it took off like wildfire.”
By March, the decision had been finalized to make the preschool a reality. The first classes begin Aug. 30.
Nash has a heavy background in early childhood education — 16 years in all with infants, toddlers and preschoolers but the bulk of that time with ages 2 to 5. Williams has worked as a licensed school counselor for the past six years first at Crescent Valley High and then at Philomath Elementary, plus she heads up the program at The Refuge as children’s pastor with ages ranging from infant to the eighth grade.
Williams admitted that she thought she would retire from school counseling but her involvement as children’s pastor turned into a full-time commitment.
“When we got this building as a church, it started to become bigger and bigger,” she said. “And as the ministry has grown, our children’s group exploded. A year ago, I had like three kids in my middle school group and now it’s 20 a week.”
The campus where The Refuge church and Roots Early Learning Center are located is not new to education. The Church of the Nazarene formerly operated at the site, which included a K-12 interdenominational school.
“There’s a strong desire for there to be a school here,” Williams said. “That’s something that’s always happened here and there’s a good feel for it; it naturally falls into that space.”
The modular where the preschool will be housed illustrated Williams’s point. The space allows for two classrooms with 14 students in each — the Little Sprouts (age 3 at enrollment) and Saplings (ages 4-5).
Roots Early Learning Center on its website has links to a parent letter, parent handbook and enrollment form to provide a high level of transparency. The preschool is open to all, not just children of The Refuge church members. Nash and Williams said Biblical principles are peppered into the curriculum.
“Really what we want is to just show the love of God and that comes through not just in the education piece,” Nash said. “It’s not going to be Sunday school every day — the curriculum we’re writing is going to be a nice blending where you have both the traditional preschool themes and art projects or math and science, but at the same time, we’re going to talk about Adam and Eve and Abraham and Sarah.”
Williams said the preschool wants to focus on remaining thoughtful on making sure the children are getting a good education that is preschool appropriate.
“We’re not pounding kids with academics super early on, we’re making sure we’re doing the social-emotional stuff, we’re teaching kids how to be students because when they move into kindergarten,” she said. “The big piece there is that they know how to learn, they know how to sit in a circle, they know how to lineup.”
The preschool will operate five days a week from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Nash offered the following as a typical day:
• Free play for the first 30 to 45 minutes, “just welcoming the kids in and getting comfortable in the space.”
• “Then we start with circle time, which is on the rug, where we go over our calendar, weather, letter of the week, theme of the week.” Circle time typically includes an engaging activity, such as reading a book or singing some songs.
• The kids then move into various “centers” where they learn about a particular subject. “The tabletops will have prepped and teacher-directed activities designed to follow a theme and have a focus.”
• Eventually, the preschoolers have a snack — parents can bring those and they can be stored in an on-site refrigerator — and enjoy some outside time.
• “We gather again for closing, prayer time, just to wrap it all up.”
Williams said love is the first thing they want children to learn.
“When love is the loudest thing in the room … then they want to be there,” she said. “If they want to be here and they’re enjoying themselves and they’re having fun and having a good time, they’re learning better. They just are.”
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