NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WZZM) - Many say kindergarten is one of the most important times of a child's life. A Lakeshore school district is taking a new approach on how it teaches those students.
The Reeths-Puffer school district teamed up with Winter Sun Schoolhouse, an early education center, to teach kindergarten classes. The public-private partnership seems to be a win-win for everyone.
"The exchange is they get the space and we get their services. That is really the partnership," said Steve Edwards, Superintendent of Schools for Reeths-Puffer. "We were able to open this building without any Reeths-Puffer administrative costs. Winter Sun Schoolhouse will oversee day to day curriculum and operations of school and staff will work in the front office. We get the benefit of opportunities for our kids but we don't have the normal expected costs associate with that."
The building is the Pennsylvania Elementary School which was had been closed for six years due to budget cutbacks. Winter Sun Schoolhouse has taken over the space and provides two private preschool classes as well as two full day kindergarten classes for the the district. Among other things, the curriculum focuses on helping students learn to integrate Spanish and American Sign Language into daily life.
"What we have found is that children of this age 3, 4 and 5 are sponges. They are capable of learning whatever we throw in front of them," said Jami Young, owner and director of Winter Sun Schoolhouse. "We have found that children learn in different ways. We use signing and other languages as well as English to integrate in the curriculum. They leave here knowing a lot."
Edwards is excited about the language component of the program.
"The American Sign Language involves movement and whenever we connect movement to learning we learn at a deeper level," he said. "And Spanish because we have a K-12 language curriculum in place at Reeths-Puffer and we want to make sure when our Kindergartners do go to first grade they are where other Kindergartners are with regard to the language."
The children start each morning with a drumming circle that teaches them the importance to teamwork. The classrooms are colorful and filled with things to spark creativity
"One of the things you will notice in the classrooms is we don't have any desks. We won't buy desks as long as I'm here," said Edwards. "Kids learn collaboratively. in The 21st century we need to embrace the fact that we need to communicate across networks as well as an interpersonal manner. We can do that knee to knee, shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow."
And Young said one of the main differences between her program and a traditional kindergarten class "is children don't sit in one classroom with one teacher all day. They actually get up and move and travel to different classrooms. For example, they will spend 45 minutes in the music theater room engaging in karaoke, puppetry, drumming and acting out stories. These are confidence building type theater skills. They will spend time in the math, science and technology room working on iPads, computers, math manipulative. They will spend time in the library reading books touching books engaging in readers workshops."
All of this is done in a an eco-friendly environment. Children will grow a community garden, enjoy a whole foods menu,
and help shape a district wide recycling program.
"We recycle glass, cardboard, paper, plastic and we compost all of our food so there is very little waste that leaves our building," said Young. "We have community garden that we've started. We've applied for a Farm to School grant. If and when we get that we will be building greenhouses and hopefully expanding our Farm to School program."
The students plant and tend to the seeds that produce all sorts of peppers, broccoli, cantaloupe, three types of squash, green beans and much more. Foods the students themselves will eat. They even use compost made from their left over lunches in the garden.
"A lot of it is with project based learning. We don't talk about the environment, we are actually growing a garden. We don't talk about money and economics. We sell the vegetables from our garden to help the kids understand supply and demand. To help them understand how money changes hands," said Edwards. The students don't have water bottles or milk jugs but glass mason jars that are refilled everyday. We are not just talking about saving the environment or being eco-friendly but actually having the kids be a part of living that."
Reeths-Puffer and Winter Sun Schoolhouse offer a Kindergarten experience quite like no other. It's one students will reap the benefits of for a long time to come.