Though our preschool program is ever a vibrant and evolving part of the life of St. James', a few recent additions to the campus have students excited and have not only beautified the building and grounds but also expanded curricular opportunities.
A New Lobby
Last month, the lobby of the St. James' Preschool got a stunning new look that makes it more friendly and inviting. Under the direction of Jennifer Culp – an interior designer, owner of JC Studio, and mother of two preschool students – the room has become a lively space that opens up into the rest of the bustling rooms where our youngest students learn and play.
The centerpiece of the room is a mural that visitors see right as the walk in the front door. In strong angles, abstract forms, and bold colors, the painting depicts a large tree and some of its inhabitants. According to Director of Preschool Katarina Matolek, a tree was chosen as the focus because she wanted "something natural to embrace the school with positive energy and wisdom."
Creating and Interpreting the Mural
While the artist, Heather Chontos, created the mural, our preschool students had the opportunity to meet her – they were quick to point out that her shoes were covered in paint already – and to observe her while she worked. They witnessed the blank wall come alive with colors and shapes, and when a stroke went astray, they learned that every artist revises as they go and that no first try is ever perfect.
When the final coat of paint had dried, part of the fun of this abstract mural was seeing how everyone – students and adults alike – interpreted the images. Indeed, the variety of opinions and perspectives has become a teachable moment in class. Some think there's a butterfly, some see a ladybug. One student even came up with elaborate stories about the ladybug and the butterfly:
Not Just a Fresh Coat of Paint
Though the mural is the heart of the lobby's redesign, a few other special details – from the retro-style posters of animals and familiar stories framed on the adjacent wall, to the Audubon Society clock that chimes with different bird calls each hour, to the teddy bear in Korean garb who has taken up residence in the lobby – fill out the space and make it a wonderful communal area for the preschool. Beyond that, though, each detail helps to crystalize opportunities for learning – about culture, about community, about love for one another, and about nature.
Take, for example, the teddy bear in its traditional Korean attire. She is not just a toy to cuddle; she a lens through which the students see a part of another culture. She's also a reason to introduce the students to some bits of Korean language – and perhaps even an early civics lesson. Students will learn a number of Korean words suggested by Ji Eun Choi (mother of a Dinosaur student) that can be used as names for the bear; then, they'll vote on their favorite. We'll be sure to bring you ongoing polling and up-to-the minute results on election day.
Many of you know by now that the garden at the preschool is home to many monarch butterflies. The study of those creatures and the others that call the garden home have enriched the preschool curriculum and been a source of joy and wonder for the children, as well. Thanks to the generosity of Anne McIntyre and Thomas Bessant (parents of two preschool alumni, now in Kindergarten and 3rd grade), the monarch garden has a brand new weather station to give students a new way to explore and analyze the garden.
The weather station – which measures and reports temperature, wind, humidity, precipitation, sunrise time, and more – will augment the preschool's S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) curriculum and will enrich the connection between the two campuses, as elementary school students will be able to use the station to take measurements.
We are thankful to all of the parents whose generosity of time, talent, and treasure have so benefited the preschool and its programs directly, as well as to all of those whose ongoing support of the Every Child Campaign makes it possible to have the resources – including the dedicated and talented faculty – required to operate such a top-notch program.