Christine Gallagher teaches three-year-olds at Our Mother of Consolation school.

by Paula M. Riley

When children return to school this fall, they will be joined by many younger counterparts. As area schools experience an increase in demand for preschool and kindergarten programs, many have expanded their programs.

St. Genevieve’s Catholic School in Flourtown will be greeting twice as many kindergärtners in September. Sister Theresa Maugle, SSJ, principal explained that the incoming kindergarten class includes 14 siblings of existing St. Gen’s families, as well as other local students interested in “quality, Catholic education.” With two separate kindergarten classrooms, each with a teacher and aide, St. Gen’s anticipates having more than 40 kindergarten students in the fall.

Our Mother of Consolation Parish School (OMC) is expanding its pre-kindergarten program and will now provide separate classes for the 3- and 4-year-olds, allowing teachers to tailor programs for each age group. In addition, the schedule will be expanded to offer both 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds half and full day options multiple days a week. The preschool 3-year-old class will have ten children and the 4-year-old class will host 15.

Christine Gallagher serves as director of OMC’s Early Childhood Education and she will continue teaching the 3-year-old class. Michelle Snyder was recently hired as the 4-year-old pre-K teacher.

At St. Gen’s Donna Reifsnyder, beloved kindergarten teacher for two decades, will continue in this role. Maugle is currently hiring a second teacher. St. Gen’s kindergarten students enjoy a full-day program (7:45am-2:30pm) which follows the 21st century practice based on Common Core standards.

Kindergärtners, as well as every student (K-8) at St Gen’s, learn in classrooms equipped with SmartBoards and other technology. This year, the school is adding 30 new laptops and desktops for students and staff.

“Our students are very tech-savvy – we, as a school, are future-oriented,” said Maugle. “We need to constantly look within ourselves to provide the best we can to meet the needs of each child that attends our school.”

OMC Parish School is entering its 151st year and is currently engaged in a capital campaign. Revenues raised will be used to create an outdoor play space for younger children and make significant technological investments such as the addition of iPads and SmartBoards to the classrooms.

“We are a small school (187 students) but we are thriving and investing in our facility,” said Colleen Amuso, director of advancement. “Even for our littlest students we are are making a commitment.”

Although Amuso and Maugle are thrilled with their school’s growth, it is not unexpected. Both attribute increasing enrollment and program expansion to strong parish communities. St. Gen’s has also experienced an influx of families from the area once served by Holy Martyr’s Catholic School in Oreland, which closed in 2010.

Two years ago, Norwood-Fontbonne Academy expanded its pre-primary program to fill a need for parents who wanted an NFA education but were not drawn to its existing Montessori Preschool Program. One of only six American Montessori Schools accredited in Pennsylvania, NFA has been offering a multi-aged (3-,4- and 5-year-olds) learning environment with Montessori methods and materials for over four decades.

Its new Pre-primary Preschool program offers a creative, interactive program with a looping process, so the teacher instructing children as 3-year-olds will see them again as 4-year-olds. Children experience small group learning with themed units.

“One of the unique characteristics of NFA is that parents are offered a choice of two paths for early childhood education,” said Nancy Peluso, head of lower grades. “We are happy to be able to offer our parents this choice, and we have families who have children in each of our programs.”

Peluso explained that one of the main differences in the two early childhood paths of education is the role of the teacher. In the Montessori classroom, the role of the teacher is as facilitator; whereas in pre-primary, the teacher’s role is more as director.

Springside Chestnut Hill Academy has long offered robust pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs for boys and girls that follow the academic rigor of its regular program in an age-appropriate setting. Children are in single-sex classes on different campuses.

“Our very youngest students are exposed to our Lower School science programs, including the physics labs, Mandarin Chinese language program, technology, imagineering lab, music and writing workshops as part of their core curriculums,” said Kate Noel, director of external affairs.

Parents at all the schools have positive comments about their experiences and the growth the schools are experiencing. St. Gen’s parent Dr. Joan Donahue, a pediatrician, is sending her son Joseph to kindergarten in the fall.

“We are really happy with the education our older two girls have received,” Donahue said. “Two kindergarten classes is a sign that the school is growing and that Catholic education is alive and well.”