This school year, 2012/2013, parents of kindergarten children can send their 5-year-olds to the public school a couple days a week and supplement that with private school a couple afternoons.
Sunshine Kindergarten Enrichment, a program at Hosanna Lutheran Church, has 28 students.
Most attend public school through the District 831 program, which offers all-day kindergarten on either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, with alternating Fridays. Some are enrolled in Lakes International Language Academy, a charter elementary school in Forest Lake. Two are home-schooled.
Sunshine is located at 9300 Scandia Tr. N., which is in the Scandia Elementary area. But the kindergarten students come from Chisago City, Forest Lake, Scandia, Columbus, Lino Lakes, and Wyoming.
There is no bus: Parents drive to the church and bring their children inside the church to the classroom each day. (Some children are delivered by a nanny; some families organize car pools.)
The cost for two afternoons a week, from 12:30 to 3 p.m., is $125 per month, September through May, or $1,125 for the school year.
When the District 831 school board voted to change to all-day, every-day kindergarten next fall, the first reaction posted on the Forest Lake Times website was disappointment.
Megan Kulenkamp wrote, “Not happy at all about this decision. My daughter did the all-day, every-other-day and went to the Enrichment program at Sunshine on her off days. It was perfect! Was hoping to do the same for my son, who is supposed to attend Lino Lakes next fall.”
It won’t be the same, but Sunshine will be an option next fall. If the school’s plans work out, a few families can choose to skip public kindergarten altogether and attend Sunshine instead.
The private kindergarten is changing its program. Instead of complementing the public school kindergarten, Sunshine will compete with it for students.
Next year’s Sunshine kindergarten class will meet Monday through Friday from 12:30 to 3 p.m. It will be limited to 20 students and will have two teachers. Cost is $275 per month, or $2,475 for the school year.
A parent information session will be held at 6:30 p.m. next Monday, Jan. 14. Then parents have until Feb. 15 to register.
If the number registered by that deadline is less than 16, the class will be cancelled and the $100 registration fee returned.
“Typically, our parents say their children learn more from us than from the regular kindergarten,” said Assistant Director Cheri Pederson, one of the teachers. “Our goal is to create a lifelong love of learning in our students. A lot of parents come back to say how well their children are doing in school because they’ve learned to be learners,” Pederson said.
Pederson and her co-teacher, Director Laura Kinney, use hands-on activities, field trips, art and science.
A major project is the animal book. Each kindergarten student chooses one animal native to Minnesota and creates a book to share with the class.
At the beginning of the animal unit, the class takes a field trip to William O’Brien State Park to learn from a naturalist and make molds of animal tracks.
Back in school, each child is given an information packet with three published books to learn about the animal chosen.
With their parents’ help, they answer questions: How would you describe your animal? Compare it in size to something you know. Each student becomes an expert on one animal.
Using drawings and cut-out pictures from magazines, each student prepares a report. “I type whatever they wrote” and include it in the book, Kinney said. The child’s report is bound into a book.
When the project is complete, each kindergartner gives a presentation to the class.
The animal book is a favorite with many children, the teachers said. One boy quizzed his younger sister when she was in the program three years later. “What did you get?! What animal?!” he asked eagerly.
It’s not just Minnesota animals. Sunshine kindergartners learn about all things Minnesota: rivers, sports teams, rocks, agricultural products.
A Native American unit in the spring teaches about Minnesota tribes.
The children study the state seal, state flag, state tree, state butterfly. They bake blueberry muffins and apple pie.
They sort rocks into categories by color, shape and texture, and they are introduced to the terms sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic.
To learn about the state fish, they eat walleye. “We’ve had grandparents fish for us in the fall and save walleye for us,” Kinney said.
Pederson tells another fish story. After they bought a walleye minnow to show the class, at a cost of $8 to $10, the minnow died the night before it was needed. Kinney’s response was “Let’s not waste the minnow. Let’s dissect the minnow,” Pederson said.
Before starting, they talked to the children. “It’ll be icky, but you’ll get to see what the inside of a fish looks like.”
The teachers emphasize the small ratio of students to teachers, 10 to one. This allows for much personal attention.
“We really make an effort to individualize instruction,” Kinney said. This makes a huge difference for students who are above average academically.
Every year at least two or three come to Sunshine already reading. “We get kids who are reading at the third-grade level. We let them expand,” Pederson added.
Sometimes a kindergarten teacher in a public school recommends bright students to them, saying they need more content and more one-on-one attention.
“It’s like putting them in a blender to send them to public school,” Kinney said.
In addition to academics, the Sunshine program has a Christian flavor. A Bible verse once a month, chapel once a month, and daily devotion are included.
With pocket change from their parents, Sunshine students support two World Vision students from Mozambique. Once a month they write letters to the two children.
For the Christmas season, the Biblical Christmas story is celebrated with a manger and costumes. “We focus on what can you give, not what can you get,” the teachers said. “We put food under our tree for the food shelves.”
The music program, “Rhythm Band Jam,” uses triangle, maracas, drums, tambourine and sticks to teach rhythm.
In addition to the William O’Brien outing, the classes also visit the Northwest Fur Post in Pine City.
In May they canoe on a lake, fish, roast hot dogs, build a sand castle and get wet on the “Up North” field trip.
A spring bird unit gets the students outdoors with binoculars.
Both Kinney and Pederson originally taught in the White Bear Lake school district. Kinney taught fifth and sixth grades for 34 years, and Pederson was a special education teacher.
They were talking with each other about starting their own preschool when the Sunshine director’s job opened. Sunshine preschool has existed since the 1970s.
Kinney took early retirement and Pederson quit her special ed job so they could work together at Sunshine.
“We see teaching as a mission, not a job,” Pederson said.
The kindergarten enrichment program, to supplement public school, started in 2006.
If parents embrace the new program, Sunshine Kindergarten at Hosanna will continue.