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spns_120Stacy Wilder dreamed of opening a preschool for more than 20 years.  In just a few weeks that dream is coming true, and there will be a new school in Lansing.  Sweet Peas Nursery School will serve children ages three through five, five days a week. 

"I always wanted to do it in Lansing," she says.  "I believe that Lansing is the only school district in Tompkins County that doesn't have Universal Pre-K, a state funded pre-K that is in the schools.  Lansing has Head Start, an income-based pre-K.  The income threshold is low, and many Lansing families don't qualify for it."

For the past several weeks Wilder has been setting up the school in the building behind the East Shore Christian Fellowship church.  The spacious school is divided into several areas where kids will learn and play.  The curriculum is based on New York State pre-kindergarten standards, so it will cover language arts, social studies, math, art, music, physical and social development, and health topics, all at a preschool level.  And Wilder will prepare kids for Kindergarten.

"Every child is going to develop at their own level and their own pace," she says.  "It's not like they're going to fail preschool if they don't know all their letters.  But we're hoping that when they go they will at least have gotten some things from preschool that will help the transition.  It will help them be confident, and hopefully their kindergarten teachers will say, 'Wow, that Sweet Peas Nursery School really prepared these kids for kindergarten!'"

Wilder was born in Fonda, NY.  By high school that she wanted to be a teacher and run a pre-school.  She studied teaching at Elmira College, then taught elementary school from 1993 through 1997 in Mayfield, NY and then in Hamden CT.  In 2000 she moved to Ithaca where her husband had a job at Ithaca College.  That year they had their son Caleb, and she began a NY State registered home-based day care service as a way to stay home with him.  Since then she has offered day care in Lansing for nine of those years.  But that wasn't the dream.

"I always wanted to have a pre-school," she says.  "I thought about it and looked around for places to do it, but the thing that always held me back was an affordable location."

spns_stacyStacy Wilder

Enter the East Shore Christian Fellowship.  Last winter people there had been talking about using the building behind the church as a day care center, but had not worked out how to do it.  When they learned Wilder wanted to open a preschool they offered her their space.

Wilder says the location is perfect in many ways.  She hopes to have a plot within the church's community garden where kids can grow vegetables and harvest them.  A walkway leads from behind the church to the Town ballfields and the Lansing Community Library.  She has already contacted librarian Susie Gutenberger about field trips so kids can learn how to use the library, once in the Spring, and once in the Fall.  The walkway also leads to Woodsedge which may lead to inter-generational programming.  A Zumba session is planned, offered by a former preschool teacher who now teaches Zumba for kids.  And the church has five acres in which kids can run and play.

"It was the right timing for the church," she says.  "It was the right timing for me.  And I think it's good timing for the community.  I've been overwhelmed by the response.  There was definitely a need."

School days will be from nine to noon.  When the kids arrive there will be small table blocks or a puzzle or beads on the table and coloring for them to work on while we wait for everyone to come.  Around 9:15 they'll be called to the 'Circle Time' area.  Circle Time is the learning portion of the day in which kids will work on letters and numbers, calendars, and other topics.  Story Time is next, followed by a language arts game or a math or movement kind of a game.

The next part of the day will allow children to choose among 'Free Choice Centers' scattered around the school.  Each day there will be from six to nine centers set up.  One may have blocks, or another painting or some kind of art project.  There will be a reading corner, a puzzle table, a dress-up area, a science table.  Some days there will be a Play-Doh station, a sand table, a math activity, or a water table.  Kids will be able to play at one, or many centers.

The morning will end with a snack and then playing outside.  There will be a 'closing circle' either inside or outside.

"Our goal is kindergarten-readiness," Wilder says.  "A big part of that is self-help skills like getting on our own shoes.  Things like lining up and raising our hands to say something.  Sitting in a circle to listen to a story, answering questions about the story, picking up after your own snack, cleaning up your own crayons... all of that is a big chunk of what we do.  Another big chunk is the social-emotional things: taking turns, sharing, kindness to your friends, working through feelings in an appropriate way for a group setting.  The third piece is to work with the child where their skill levels are."

Wilder will be the lead teacher, doing the lesson planning and running the school, and Lansing mom Jamie Jones is the assistant teacher.  Jones has two kids in the school district, and teaches Sunday School at Lansing united methodist Church.  Katrina Overton is lined up as a substitute teacher.  Wilder is planning a top enrollment of 18, and she says enrollment is already almost full.  This week she held an open house, and says she hopes she will be able to accomodate everyone, but will start a waiting list if need be.

And she is already planning ahead.  She wants to add an afternoon session if there turns out to be a demand for it.  She is considering some themed summer camps next year for pre-school aged kids.  And she is hoping to work with interns from Ithaca College and other sources.

For now, the school is almost ready to open.  It will provide a much needed service to the community, and finally realize Wilder's dream.

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