Pitching a Tent for the Perfect Preschool

Date Posted: 3/14/2019

Photo by Tim Mozingo, Daily Sentinel
By: Sherri Gragg
Lining the Sidewalk
Lisa Labosky has served the First UMC Nacogdoches Preschool for 27 years, 22 years in the classroom, and for the past 5 years, as the Preschool Director. During her tenure, she has witnessed FUMC Nacogdoches Preschool’s ceaseless commitment to quality early childhood Christian education. Parents in the community were always eager to secure their children a spot in the school but around three years ago, the competition for enrollment reached a whole other level.
“Three years ago, parents began coming around 5:00 a.m. on registration day to get in line,” Labosky said. “Next, it was 4:00 a.m. Then, some of them came at 1:00 a.m. Last year, a lady came the day before.”
The mother, who was pregnant, arrived around 11:00 a.m. the day before registration, placed her lawn chair on the sidewalk and then settled in for the long wait. As evening fell, she surrendered her spot to a woman she had hired to hold her place through the night. The next morning, when Labosky arrived at 6:00 a.m., 24 other parents had already joined the woman on the sidewalk. Wes McKnight was number 23rd in line.
But his early morning sacrifice was not enough. By the time he stepped forward hoping for paperwork, each available spot had already been filled.
This year, McKnight was determined things would turn out differently. Around lunchtime the day before registration, he pitched a tent on the sidewalk and settled in to spend the night. An hour later, another parent secured her place in line behind him. By the time Labosky arrived early the next morning, the sidewalk was filled with hopeful parents.
A Recipe for Excellent Early-Childhood Education
In 2018, FUMC Nacogdoches Preschool applied to participate in the Texas Rising Star program, an early childhood education quality rating system. A team from Texas Rising Star spent the week at the preschool observing teachers and evaluating lesson plans. At the end of the assessment, Texas Rising Star awarded FUMC Nacogdoches Preschool a four out of four-star rating.
As churches throughout the Texas Annual Conference either begin new preschools or search for ways to improve their existing early-childhood educational offerings, FUMC Nacogdoches Preschool offers a tried-and-true recipe for success:

  1. Begin with Intentional Discipleship
In addition to the spiritual formation children receive through a faith-based curriculum, children have weekly chapel services. Senior Pastor the Rev. Dr. Jeff McDonald and FUMC Nacogdoches Director of Children’s Ministry, Elsa Jordan, frequently help lead the services.
  1. Offer Flexible Scheduling
“Parents can enroll their children either two, three, or five days each week,” Labosky said, “We also offer both a half-day and full-day program. That flexibility really helps a lot of families.”
  1. Hire Excellent Early-Childhood Educators
All teachers at FUMC Nacogdoches Preschool have education degrees. Additionally, the preschool provides two teachers per classroom ensuring more one-on-one instruction for students.
  1. Provide a Comprehensive, Research-Based Curriculum
FUMC Nacogdoches Preschool offers students both the ABC Jesus Loves Me, and Godly Play curriculums ensuring their children experience an excellent academic education and spiritual formation.
  1. Expand Curriculum with Enrichment Classes
Each year, FUMC Nacogdoches Preschool strives to expand their program beyond existing curriculum by offering enrichment classes for students. “We recently added an early childhood gross motor teacher to our staff, and Spanish classes in the young two-year-old classes,” Labosky said.
  1. Invite Parental Participation
FUMC Nacogdoches Preschool encourages essential parental participation by offering special days throughout the year when moms and dads are invited to come to the school such as the Christmas Journey to Bethlehem, Spring Journey to the Cross, Polar Express Day, and Charlie Brown Christmas Day.
Happy Teachers, Happy Kids
FUMC Nacogdoches Preschool is clearly intentional in its pursuit of excellent early-childhood education, but Labosky credits a less-tangible ingredient as an important part of the school’s success. The preschool, she says, is a happy place. This positive learning and work environment is so essential that whenever Labosky interviews prospective teachers, she encourages them to remain at the school only as long as it remains a “happy place” for them.
“Happy teachers make happy children, which makes happy parents,” Labosky said. And that, she asserts, is not only the secret to a successful preschool, it is the key to developing a preschool that pleases the Lord.