YORKVILLE – Yorkville School District Y115 is celebrating its new Early Childhood Learning Center which opened at the start of the school year.
School and community leaders gathered at the center on Nov. 9 for a ribbon-cutting event and a tour of the new facility, which is designed for children ages 3 to 5 who have been identified as needing special attention for their development.
“This is probably our greatest accomplishment,” Yorkville School Board President Lynn Burks told the large crowd. “You are all the magic that makes it happen.”
Over the summer, the school district spent $1 million to purchase the commercial building that had been home to the We Grow Kids day care center and another $1 million to transform the 10,000-square-foot space into a fully equipped school.
Located at 101 Garden St., at the northwest corner of Garden and South Bridge Street (Route 47), the Early Childhood Center has about 200 students and a staff that includes teachers, aides, speech therapists, physical therapists, social workers, a nurse and other professionals.
While some of the students have physical disabilities, most are dealing either with a speech and language impairment or a developmental delay, Early Childhood Coordinator Cory Mehnert said.
Until now, the Early Childhood program had been located at the Bristol, Yorkville and Circle Center grade schools.
When school officials embarked on a plan last spring to offer a full-day kindergarten schedule for students starting with the 2022-23 year, it hinged on finding enough room in school buildings to accommodate the expanded program.
Consolidating the Early Childhood Program at one location fit neatly into that plan, freeing up space at the grade schools for kindergarten classes.
“It was a dream long before I got here to have all-day kindergarten and we talked about how to get the Early Childhood program under one roof,” Superintendent Tim Shimp told the crowd that had assembled for the ceremony and tour.
“This makes us so much stronger as a team,” Mehnert said. “It creates a lot of opportunities for collaboration by the staff.”
The play-based program emphasizes language and social skills for the youngsters and seeks to involve parents.
Teacher Katelyn Plazola and paraprofessional aide Jen Donahue are a team in one of the building’s eight gleaming new classrooms, all filled with toys, games, books and a colorful decor.
Plazola teaches two “blended” classes of 3- to 5-year-olds, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, with 14 students in each group.
“I love the students. I love seeing them grow and how much they love learning,” Plazola said.
Donahue assists, doing everything from preparing teaching materials to assisting students who need help going to the bathroom.
Kari Brestan teaches a “structured” class, composed of 4- and 5-year-olds, many with multiple disabilities, including autism, who require help preparing themselves for kindergarten next year.
Brestan’s students, who get an intensive five-hours of instruction each day, are learning the basics, including eating, potty training and social skills.
An experienced instructor with the Early Childhood program, Brestan was previously teaching at Autumn Creek. She likes working with other staff members for under the same roof.
“I enjoy having the whole team here for guidance and to share materials,” Brestan said.
The reconfigured building space has eight classrooms, plus offices, activity rooms, storage areas and plenty of bathrooms.