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Valley Pre-School’s core standards are anything but common Rebecca Lobo-Rushin shares her experience as a parent and former student at Valley Pre-School
By Andrea Burns
When Rebecca Lobo-Rushin’s three-year-old daughter, Rose, walks into her classroom at Valley Pre-School in Granby, it feels like she is stepping into the pages of a storybook.
“Rose gets to visit a magical wonderland almost every day she goes to school,” Lobo-Rushin said. “Depending on the educational focus of the day, the classrooms are transformed into places like airplanes, beaches, grocery stores and so much more.”
Continually changing the learning environment to capture the imagination of students is one of the ways Valley uses play to prepare students for kindergarten and beyond with the new Common Core State Standards in mind.
“Our goal is to develop a strong foundation for a child’s education in the cognitive, physical, and social/emotional domains,” said Kathy Jackson, director of Valley and head teacher for the 3- and 4-year-old classes. “But, we do it in a way that is true to the children by sparking their curiosity and creating joy in learning.”
That is why Lobo-Rushin decided to send her four children to Valley. “Play-based learning is vital because it makes children want to learn,” Lobo-Rushin said. “My kids enjoyed the process of discovering new things because it was always done in a fun way.”
When Lobo-Rushin’s son, Thomas, was in the 4-year-old program at Valley, he experienced the educational power of a stuffed bear named Merly. Each student takes Merly home for a week and at night he comes alive, is adventurous and sometimes gets into mischief. Merly even travels the world. Last year, he found his way into Lobo-Rushin’s husband’s suitcase for a trip to Antarctica.
“Merly is a great example of how we take something playful and use it as a teaching tool,” Jackson said. “Among other things, we build literacy and writing skills by having the children keep a journal about Merly’s visit. We also use Merly in geography lessons, highlighting the places he has traveled.”
At Valley, the curriculum is fluid to make what happens in the classroom meaningful for each student and their varying degrees of ability and interests. “The children are exposed to everything they will need to know, and they have choice on how they get there,” Jackson said.
According to Jackson, something that happened at the science table recently highlights this sense of choice. The table is filled with different objects and creatures from nature such as pinecones and red-spotted newts, depending on the week. One day, two students took the magnifying glass, measuring tape and journal from the table and started measuring things throughout the classroom. “The table sparked their curiosity and they ended up working in a way that touched the three areas of development,” Jackson said. “Socially, they conversed and decided on roles; cognitively, they determined the length of objects and drew pictures of findings; and physically, they climbed on stools to be able to reach tall objects.”
Because Valley is a cooperative school, Lobo-Rushin is able to see first-hand the choices children are given and the intentional teaching at work when she helps out in the classroom. “When I parent-help for a day, I get to know each child and see them learn and grow,” Lobo-Rushin said. “Watching 3- and 4-year-olds discover something new is an amazing experience and it happens every day at Valley.”
Not only is Lobo-Rushin a parent at Valley, but she is also a former student. After becoming a star on the UConn basketball team and being inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, she now works as an analyst for women’s college and WNBA basketball games. “I love that I am able to work and still help at the school and even serve on the board of directors,” Lobo-Rushin said. “I’ve become great friends with other parents and look forward to seeing everyone when I drop my daughter off at school. Valley is a special place.”
Part of what makes Valley a special place, Jackson said, is the sense of community fostered among families and the virtues such as gentleness, self-sufficiency and patience that underlie the curriculum. In December, the students experienced the virtue of generosity when they collected greenery and berries from outside their homes to create gifts for some former teachers who volunteer at the school. “Because the children brought in the materials and put the gifts together, they felt personally invested,” Jackson said. “It was done in a way that they first felt it in their hearts and hands so that the virtue could be understood in their heads.”
Lobo-Rushin said her children have carried the virtues they learned at Valley and their enjoyment of learning on to elementary school. “I’m thrilled that all my children have been able to experience the magic of Valley,” she said.
The slogan of the Common Core State Standards Initiative is “preparing America’s students for college and career.” “That is exactly what the play-based experience at Valley is meant to do,” Jackson said. “We help students kindle a joy for learning that we hope they will carry on to each stage of their education.”
Valley Pre-School is now accepting applications for the 2014-2015 school year. For more information, call 860-653-3641, or visit www.valleypreschoolinfo.org.