Catholic schools expand preschool options, citing increased demand

Preschool students at St. Joseph School in Lake Orion match letters on pumpkin stickers during a fall project. Several local Catholic schools have added or expanded preschool programs in recent years as demand has risen for more options for Catholic parents. (Courtesy of Joe Zmikly)

METRO DETROIT — If the future of Catholic education starts with the youngest of Catholic students, then the future is bright in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

With increased demand and a growing awareness of the benefits of beginning Catholic education at a young age, several archdiocesan schools have recently added or expanded preschool programs, citing the needs of parents and the importance of improving children’s readiness for kindergarten.

One of those schools, Shrine Catholic Schools in Royal Oak, will open a new early childhood development center in the 2017-18 school year. Construction will start at the end of the current school year at Shrine’s grade school campus in Royal Oak, featuring six classrooms to serve students ages 3 to 5. Program options will include a full-day and half-day preschool, junior kindergarten and after-care.

“All new classrooms will be state-of-the-art and technology integrated,” said Jen Bero, assistant principal at Shrine’s grade school. “All will have their own restrooms, sinks and refrigerators, new equipment and furniture.”

Preschool students at the National Shrine of the Little Flower help “break ground” for the Royal Oak school’s new early childhood center, which is slated to open in the fall. (Courtesy of Meg Armstrong)

Shrine’s current preschool program includes three options for 4-year-old students: Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8-11 a.m., noon to 3 p.m., or 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Three-year-old preschoolers attend on Tuesday and Thursday from 8-11:00 a.m.

Bero said the decision to expand Shrine’s preschool facilities and offer more program options resulted mainly from increased demand.

“A lot of our families and current faculty wanted this,” Bero said. “A lot of families need full-time care. We will now be able to offer a much broader, larger menu for them to choose from. Our parents are very excited to have options that work with their schedules.”

While tuition may increase to cover expanded options, preschool tuition is still a significantly less expensive option than day care for many parents, Bero said. Those who enroll at the Shrine preschool by Feb. 10 will get a 10 percent tuition discount, Bero added.

Demand also was a driving factor in expanding the preschool at St. Joseph Catholic School in Lake Orion, which now operates two full-day preschool classes at its main campus and a half-day option at a satellite campus at St. Joseph’s “sister parish,” Christ the Redeemer, about a 10-minute drive away.

St. Joseph principal Joe Zmikly said both St. Joseph and Christ the Redeemer were looking for “new ways to work together … and be in mission together.”

With St. Joseph needing more space to meet its preschool needs, and Christ the Redeemer looking to offer more options for families, the parishes decided to work together.

“We now have quite an array of options,” Zmikly said, which include a traditional half-day preschool for 3-year-olds, offered two days a week; a traditional half-day preschool for 4-year-olds, offered three days a week; a traditional half-day junior kindergarten for young 5-year-olds, offered five days a week; and a full-day, mixed-age preschool for 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, and young 5-year-olds, offered two to five days a week.

Zmikly said St. Joseph offers a Christ-centered approach to its preschool program.

“We pride ourselves on teaching the whole child – mind, body and spirit,” Zmikly said. “Preschoolers attend Mass with the older students on Fridays, and each preschooler is assigned a middle school ‘buddy’ who sits with them at Mass, helps the preschooler in the hallways, and gives them someone to look up to. The middle-schoolers get as much out of the relationship as the preschoolers do.”

St. Edith School in Livonia only recently added a preschool program to its kindergarten-through-eighth-grade campus. Lead preschool teacher Carrie Yessler said the school’s administration had been considering starting the program for years, until the current principal, Georgene Wojciechowski, joined the staff in 2014.

Wojciechowski’s background, with 30 years of experience in Catholic schools, helped make the preschool a reality.

The main goal of St. Edith’s program is to ensure students are ready to attend kindergarten, although parent demand also played a role. Because of that goal, Wojciechowski said, the school is focusing on quality over quantity.

“Our desire is to keep our numbers lower,” Wojciechowski said. “We are keeping our preschool enrollment around 20, and with a lead teacher and an aide, we have a 10:1 student/teacher ratio. Size does matter in preschool. ”

St. Edith has the capacity to fill one classroom per grade at its school, and currently offers a half-day, 4-year-old preschool option on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There is the possibility, due to the availability of one extra classroom, that the school will add a Tuesday-Thursday option in the future.

“We will run our current program for two years before we think about any changes,” Wojciechowski said.