Earlier this month, the Church Preschool Board and the Vestry reviewed the documents Juanita Little had prepared for reopening the preschool. Juanita spent an inordinate amount of time going through CDC and other recommendations that applied to the safe opening of preschools. We so appreciate her time and effort spent in this; she was able to take a large volume of information and distill it into policies and procedures for reopening the preschool following CDC guidelines. After reviewing those documents, the Executive Board and the vestry approved reopening the preschool, provided that COVID 19 counts in the surrounding area served by the preschool do not dramatically go up. The current plan is to open the preschool on September 14.
The first question many of us might ask is, “Why the preschool and not the church building?” There are two key reasons for this. First, the diocese allows the Episcopal Schools and Preschools to go by the recommendations of the CDC, whereas the churches go by the decision of the bishop, based on input from his advisors. Second, the demographic for the preschool (predominantly young children and their teachers) is very different from the demographic for the church. Additionally, the preschool is designed to keep each class separate from the other classes – in teaching, and in exercise and bathroom breaks. This is not something we are able to do in the church.
Please know that we have teams working on preparing the church for a time when the buildings can be opened – we want to be ready to offer safe on-site worship as soon as we get clearance to do it. In the meantime, please join us if you can for online services: Monday and Friday Compline at 6 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday Morning Prayer at 8:00 a.m., Wednesday Healing Service at 10:00 a.m., and Sunday Worship at 10:00 a.m. All these services may be accessed using the link to Facebook on our website, or by going directly to the St. Matthews page on Facebook. And all the services are recorded, so you can watch them anytime!
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For photos and more info on St. Matthew’s Preschool, please visit their Facebook Page.
To say that the preschool has experienced a once in a lifetime event this Spring would be an understatement. Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 has left its mark on us. I will never forget the struggle with how to express my feelings, and those of our teachers and staff, about the circumstances we all found ourselves in. But I have settled on the word “unique,” which is defined as follows: being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else. Certainly, the end of our school year has been unique, unlike anything we have ever experienced. Our prayer is that we will never have to face the educational challenges that COVID-19 has brought to bear, and the physical separation from our students that social distancing has required.
But let us focus for a moment on the unique blessings this forced separation brought to us. Our teachers had to work hard to find new ways to connect with their students. They had to become Zoom pioneers and YouTube contributors — unique experiences for them! Our precious students had to adapt to seeing their teachers and classmates through a virtual setting. A truly unique experience for them! If you know any of our teachers, please join me in taking a moment to thank them for their dedication to the children and their families, for their thoughtful planning and time invested in the lives of each and every one of them! Most of all, thank them for learning to ZOOM!!! I must also thank our parents for collaborating with our staff, working together to accomplish one shared goal: ensuring each student was ready for their next educational step. What a blessing, that in the time of separation, we had the ability, through technology, to remain connected to our St. Matthew’s Preschool families.
Unique is also the perfect word for our students. It is always our great joy to get to know each student who comes to St. Matthew’s. We come to know and appreciate each child for his or her special qualities, be it kindness, intelligence, compassion, cheerfulness, silliness, or determination! At St. Matthew’s Preschool and Kindergarten, every child is special, every one–unique!
The premature ending in March happened just as the children were blossoming and just as the confidence they’ve gained throughout the school year began to shine. We missed watching our children proudly sing their special songs for their Daddy’s (at the breakfast with Dad) and Mommy’s (at the ice cream sundaes with Mom). We missed the fun of celebrating the end of the school year with our traditional Luau. And we would have given almost anything to be able to celebrate our Pre-K Fours and Kindergarten graduates in person with a fabulous performance, with lots of applause and pictures, and of course a good-bye hug. Instead, we had the unique experience of a virtual graduation, and with it an unexpected blessing. Over 300 family and friends across the country were able to join our first ever Facebook live broadcast of graduation. In the several weeks since the initial broadcast, the video has been viewed over 1,000 times!
Since our last in-person class was held on March 13th, we have missed our students immensely. So when it was determined that the only way we could safely experience closure for the 2019-2020 school year was via a contactless drive thru, we embraced the opportunity. All of our teachers, staff and Father Tommy lined up, clothed in masks and gloves, waved good bye and blew lots of covered kisses to the kids. Although it was not the way we expected to end our year, we were grateful for the chance to see our families through their car windows one last time.
Like many others, we have suffered losses as a result of COVID-19. We shall not soon forget why we didn’t get to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of St. Matthew’s Preschool that was scheduled for May. In addition, our largest fundraiser of the year, our annual Silent Auction, was to be held in conjunction with the 35th Anniversary celebration. We have also had to cancel our three Preschool Summer Camps this year, which we consider as vital for creating income, as well as a perfect way to recruit new students. However, in lieu of our camps, we will be continuing to Zoom! In order to stay connected to our current families and to create connections with new families, our teachers will be offering a reading hour and a music hour on two separate days each week during the summer. This will be another unique experience for all involved!
I would like to turn our minds to focusing on the positive and all that was accomplished in the first half of our year! Our enrollment was at an all-time high, with 97 unique students and all available classes filled. Our new tradition of a grandparent’s dance in the Fall boasted over 150 attendees; both our Halloween pumpkin auction and our Christmas basket auction were a success; and our Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas Program had the highest attendances in our 35 year history!
And then there are the blessings that God provided this year. Father Tommy joined us and began welcoming our children in the mornings and taking turns with Mother Liz to teach them in Chapel every Wednesday. We recently had additional WAP cabling along with additional outlets and tv wall mounts installed. Once additional funding is procured, the TV’s will be purchased and installed. This is an exciting new resource, not only for our staff to be able to utilize to enhance teaching, but for the church, christian education and the choir as well. On the playground the grass has definitely had a chance to grow, filling in some stubborn bare spots! And last, but not least, because we have had a strong provision from God with full enrollment for the last 2 years, we were able to continue to pay our teachers through the pandemic.
Finally, I am reminded at this unique time, that by God’s grace, St. Matthew’s Preschool not only survived the flood of 2017, we flourished! We have faith that when we reflect on the Spring of COVID-19, we will be reminded of God’s blessings. As we move away from this school year and the world begins to “re-open” and find a “new normal”, I ask that you pray for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year and the discernment needed in planning for re-opening in the Fall. Please pray for the well-being of the preschool and continued good health for our preschool families and staff. With God’s continued providence, blessing and strength, will we prevail through this unique experience and continue to be a blessing to the preschool families and a vibrant outreach for St. Matthew’s to our local community.
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Click here to check out the end-of-year committee reports and the approved 2019 budget, and meet your newly elected vestry members.
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By Juanita Little, Preschool Director
God continues to bless St. Matthew’s Preschool in so many ways. Not only did we come into the school on the Tuesday after Labor Day to a dry preschool (as opposed to last year’s flooding), but we have been blessed to start our school year at almost full capacity! Out of 100 spots, 94 are filled, leaving just six toddler spots open. While we welcomed five new teachers this year, we love that more than half of our staff of 19 have been here for ten years or more – two have been teaching here for more than twenty years. All five of the new staff have recently had or currently have children that attend St. Matthew’s Preschool.
St. Matthew’s Preschool is dear to our hearts, as each one of our children have attended this school. We know the difference we make in the children’s lives because we see their growth each year. We want them to be successful in their future school endeavors, and we love providing the atmosphere, love and learning that can help them accomplish that. We hope that when they leave St. Matthew’s Preschool they will take a piece of our loving, patient, nourishing hearts with them, and that they will love school. God has definitely put us in a place where we can share His love and pay forward the blessings He provides.
Matthew 28:19 tells us to go out and make disciples of all the nations. Since we as a school can’t go out and do so, God has brought the nations to us! We love and appreciate our school’s diversity. If you haven’t seen the map in the preschool hallway (on the wall on the right), be sure to check it out. The world map shows where our student’s families have come from. Our families really enjoyed adding their family to the St. Matthew’s Preschool family via the map. They even made a few connections knowing there were others from their home countries there at school together. As part of the church’s outreach ministry, we are blessed to be able to touch so many lives from so many places, from around the US to all around this country and the world—twenty-one different countries and eleven US states! Here is how far this outreach ministry reaches: Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Curacao, Guyana, Canada, Belgrade, Spain, Lebanon, Romania, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Iran, India, Pakistan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam; and—besides Georgia—Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, New Mexico, Kansas, Nevada, California, and Alabama.
In God’s timing, He has blessed us with the ability for the preschool to purchase a new playground. This has been a long-term dream of the preschool’s executive board, and God has helped bring that dream to fruition. We eagerly wait for the new playground to be delivered and installed sometime in October. The new playground will include a new layout with new equipment, new timbers (plastic fun timbers will replace the existing wooden ones) and mulch. We are so elated – and that’s just the staff! We can’t wait to see the excitement of the children when they get to see it and play on it for the first time.
Last, but not least, we want to thank the St. Matt’s community for continuing to support our school with your financial, spatial and supplies donations. Our supply bucket wish list was 90 percent filled this summer! We’d also like to thank Mother Liz for holding chapel for our little ones, and the Sunday School teachers for making sure the classrooms are ready on Monday mornings for the children to arrive and get their day started. Thank you for allowing us to use the Parish Hall when needed too. We just used the hall to have our first annual Grandparent’s Dance and it was a great night with music, dancing, and refreshments. We had 100 people in attendance. We loved providing the opportunity for the grandparents to have some dancing fun with their grandchildren.
We are looking forward to a successful school year and can’t wait to see all the ways God is going to use us in the children’s lives this year. Remember: the church is always invited to attend our Christmas program and graduation ceremony.
Many blessings to you!
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A special thank you to the church and all the lovely volunteers for their help during this summer’s Hero Central VBS. We had around 100 kids on campus and they had a blast! From Charmaine helping me with the color printer to ensure the perfect name tags to Oscar, Sylvia and the youth moving the Fellowship Hall dividers to the sanctuary to create our “cityscape”, VBS has truly been a work of love. Through this week, I’ve watched the volunteers holding hands and comfort crying kids as well as helping them create art and explore what it means to be a true hero in God. For me, it was easy to see what a hero was because any group of people who give up time–our most important non-renewable resource–to help foster God’s love in our youth are heroes in the truest sense of the word. A heartfelt thank you to all of you, especially the center leads who spent many hours preparing their center – VBS would be nothing without you. You are all heroes!