As the school year comes to a close, the community of Andrew Chapel United Methodist Church Preschool has something big to celebrate, despite the adversity of the past year. Not even a worldwide pandemic could stop them from missing out on their fiftieth school year loving, serving and teaching children.
“Geoff (Wright, assistant director) and I were fully committed to opening our doors this year to provide a sense of normalcy for children and their families,” said Nancy Diecidue, Andrew Chapel Preschool director since 2013.
Finding a way to keep the doors open took a lot of creative thinking, perseverance and support from the church. A partnership that’s familiar to the Andrew Chapel community.
The school first opened its doors for the 1970-1971 school year, as a ministry of Andrew Chapel United Methodist Church under the direction of Becky Righter, former pastor Jim Righter’s wife, with two teachers in two classrooms of 27 three and four-year-olds. They launched the well-received Mothers’ Day Out Program the following year extending enrollment to children ages eleven months to two years.
The program was well received in the community from early on drawing a diverse group of families from the church and neighboring community. Teachers and staff have oftentimes come to the school as parents who love the experience their children have, and many of them tend to stay.
Andrew Chapel member Sandy Ashman worked at the preschool for more than 40 years. A former P.E. teacher, she started teaching at the preschool when her son, Scott, was enrolled. She says she, “wanted to keep her foot in the door of teaching while being at home with her young child.”
Sandy, putting her teaching gifts to use, started a physical education program for young children, the first of its kind in the local area. This program became an integral part of the school’s curriculum. Today, assistant director and certified children’s yoga instructor, Geoff Wright, has continued this mission of teaching children to integrate movement into a healthy lifestyle through his weekly P.E. and afterschool kids’ yoga classes.
In 1975, Grace Berry, joined the staff as music coordinator—sharing her piano and voice talents with the children for 17 years. Music enrichment and instruction also continues to be a key element of the curriculum.
“We had great dedicated teachers that would come, these teachers just stayed and stayed and stayed,” said Sibyle Cook Jenks, director (1974-1993) and former Andrew Chapel member. “Everyone involved had such a dedication to the children and I formed many wonderful, lasting relationships.”
Strong connections to the community and this selfless dedication to quality education for young children is what has kept this school, where play is the foundation for learning, thriving for 50 years.
Over time the school has grown with a building addition that included a large fellowship hall for play on inclement weather days and playground with an open field tucked into the trees of the Andrew Chapel campus.
Today, the school’s natural light filled classrooms are occupied with 115 students and 22 staff members when operating at full capacity. However, in fall 2020, they had to reduce their enrollment by about half because of COVID restrictions.
“We were unable to have many of our traditional events this year because of COVID. Despite that, through the efforts of our hardworking staff, parent support, Pastor Matt and the church, the children were able to have a wonderful school year,” Diecidue said. “We are looking forward to our 51st school year and welcoming our entire Andrew Chapel family back into the building.”
Steadfastness, church and community partnership and consistency is what has kept the program strong.
“All in all, Andrew Chapel UMC Preschool has always been a great place to be,” said Linda Idol director (1993-2013). “I loved working there and I know it continues to be wonderful under the direction of Nancy Diecidue and the great staff they have today. It is a place with many great memories for many people.”