Johnson Early Childhood Center provides preschoolers with skills for success

Photo by Sue Suchyta Preschoolers in the Taylor Great Start Readiness Program at the Johnson Early Childhood Center express themselves through 3-D art in a relaxed and stimulating learning environment as they develop social, physical and cognitive skills.

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Preschoolers in the Taylor Great Start Readiness Program at the Johnson Early Childhood Center express themselves through 3-D art in a relaxed and stimulating learning environment as they develop social, physical and cognitive skills.

Times-Herald Newspapers

TAYLOR – Re-establishing a Great Start Readiness Program preschool this fall in Johnson Early Childhood Center, a former elementary, after past funding cuts is a dream-come-true for site administrator Amy Fesler.

The GSRP is an income-eligible free Michigan Department of Education program primarily for at-risk children from low-income families to prepare them for success in school through a variety of social and learning activities and HighScope curriculum-based experiences and parent participation.

The HighScope curriculum combines adult-child interaction with a specially designed learning environment and a plan-do-review process that encourages initiative and self-reliance.

Fesler was on a subcommittee as part of the district’s revitalization committee that encouraged the school board to return all preschool classes to a building designed to accommodate preschoolers, and to let experienced teachers mentor newer ones.

With Johnson School, 20701 Wohlfeil, closed for five years, the asbestos-based floor tile had disintegrated, necessitating removal. Then the building was painted, new flooring installed, and ceiling tiles replaced before they relocated the furniture and materials for the 10 classrooms and the office from other district schools.

“It’s been a lot of work, but my motto is ‘progress every day,’” Fesler said. “It’s wonderful for our families. It’s wonderful for our staff.

“We have everybody together to collaborate, because we have some young teachers, too, and they really need that support.”

She said having a multi-purpose room they do not have to share with an elementary school is a godsend, especially when the weather is too cold for outdoor recess.

“When we were in our other buildings, due to the elementary schedules for the gym we weren’t able to access it,” Fesler said. “And it is by our grant and our daycare licensing that children get gross motor (skills) every day. And so if the weather wasn’t good, like last winter was awful, we had to stay in.”

Fesler said two agencies also will be on site: United Way, which encourages public, private and non-profit agencies to work together to meet community needs, and the federal Women, Infant and Children special supplemental nutritional program, which provides supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutritional information for at risk women and children.

The Taylor Reading Corp may be moving into the building as well. The TRC recruits and trains volunteers to help tutor Taylor Public School students to read at or above grade level by third grade, a predictor of future high school success.

“Ninety percent of a child’s brain is developed before the age of 5,” Kesler said. “So 0 to 5 is very important.”

The center has six full-day classrooms with 18 children each, which run six hours a day, with three adults. The four half-day classrooms accommodate 16 children each, and run three hours a day, Monday through Thursday. To enroll, children must be 4 before Dec. 1 of each school year.

Preschool teacher Kristy Pickell said she enjoys giving preschoolers their first introduction to schooling.

“They are so curious, and they have so much imagination, and so much energy, I just want to get them a good start,” Pickell said, “to get them on the road for learning.”

She said she loves being in the center.

“The age group that we work with is so unique that they need something that is unique to them,” Pickell said. “It is difficult when they are put in an elementary building because a lot of the drinking fountains aren’t their size, and a lot of the building protocols don’t really mesh up with their ability levels.”

She said it is difficult for preschoolers to use a bathroom down the hall, so the classrooms have bathrooms and hand-washing sinks.

‘Everything about the building – the playground, the sandbox – everything is suitable to that 4-year-old’s level of development,” Pickell said.

Having a playground facility in the building’s center court also is convenient, said preschool teacher Cathy Oziemski, who is glad the preschool classes are no longer in different buildings.

She said having their own gym lets the children be active and work on their gross motor skills even when it is rainy or too cold to go outside.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to get a head start, and develop and get ready for kindergarten,” Oziemski said.

Sandy Tadrzak, who does the center’s day maintenance, said the building is very safe.

“It’s always locked down,” she said. “That’s probably the most important thing – security.”

Tadrzak said it is advantageous that the preschoolers are not with grade school children, who they might view as intimidating.

Preschool teacher Paula Long said teachers collaborate more easily when they are in the same building.

“Increasingly the state is changing a lot of our curriculum,” Long said, “and so we really need to work together with our ideas.”

She said another advantage of the center is the full-day classrooms have a separate space to eat and rest, separate from the activity area. The full-day children get a school breakfast and lunch.

Long said they encourage the children to be self-sufficient with activities appropriate for 4-year-olds. She said there is also a lot of emphasis on language.

“We know that children who are ready to go to kindergarten have great vocabulary,” Long said. “There was a longitudinal study a while back that talked about children who enter kindergarten language-deficient really don’t catch up, and that becomes problematic for them throughout their school career.”

She said songs, rhyming and puppets are some of the activities that encourage language usage. If a child points to something, teachers encourage them to “use their words.”

Making Johnson an early childhood center has always been her dream, Fesler said, and she and her staff have been willing to work hard to make it happen.

“When you put things positive or negative out in the universe, it happens,” Fesler said. “So it happened – my dream came true, but it’s been a lot of work.”