Little Friends Learning Center has been serving the neighborhood for 40 years (as of September 1, 2012). Currently Little Friends serves 62 children and has a staff of 20 employees. The majority of our staff has served at Little Friends for over ten years.
During the late 1960’s the Supreme Court of the United States ruled prayer out of the public school systems. As problems of the public school system developed, it became obvious that it was taking on an anti-Christian tone not acceptable to us who take Jesus Christ as the first and last in our lives.
Some of us felt led to start a Christian school, so we explored the idea of using one on one teaching led by Quaker schools and a few Christian schools in Colorado. Teachers in our congregation were all trained in the methods of mass education which are widely used today. Due to the small size of our building and not trained in one on one teaching concepts, it was decided to start out with preschool and work up to the grades if things proved successful.
Little Friends Preschool began as an idea in the minds of several members of our church. They felt a preschool would be a way to minister to the community, to give something to the community. It would allow the building where people worshipped and learned about God to be used for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom more than just a few brief times a week, allowing the church to spread God’s message of love to others.
A committee was formed to explore the preschool idea. Members of that committee were Willard Krieger, Wayne Pearson, Ray Krieger, Wayne Street, and Stan Perisho. The plan sent each of them to visit preschools in the area. Schools that were non-Christian proved rather hostile to us as we were no more than competition in their eyes. While Christian preschools, on the other hand, were willing to give advice and help as they could. Wayne Pearson attended the First Nazarene Church of Boulder and found the pastor’s wife was their preschool director. He was invited to meet with her and the school personnel the next day. She provided not only her full cooperation, but also gave us copies of regulations required by the Department of Social Services of Colorado. These covered preschool director education requirements, teacher, building, food handling, playground equipment, staff to student ratios, room sizes, lighting, fire protection requirements, etc.
With regulations in hand, we could now look objectively at our needs for personnel, building and property changes and to set an approximate cost. Money in the amount of $7000 was budgeted for the school. Cash was on hand from the sale of the parsonage on Eliot Street.
A second committee was formed to research state regulations and began preparations. That committee included Pastor Stan Perisho, Wayne Pearson, Wayne Street, Jane Bieshaar, and Generva Heathman.
In May 1972, Wayne Pearson quit his job of thirteen years and worked for three months preparing the building to meet the requirements. We had a deadline of September 1st to finish and be ready for opening the school. Wayne met with the Denver
Building inspectors and the Denver Fire Department, and recommendations were set in order:
1. Two stairwells on the back side were to be sheet rocked and taped.
2. Ten doors were replaced with solid core doors.
3. Door closers were installed on all, plus others.
4. All transoms leading to the preschool areas were changed to solid wood and sheetrock.
5. Enclosed lighting and ceiling panels were installed through out the school area.
6. Thermal fire alarm system was installed, with radio alarm transmission to the Fire Station. This was done for the entire building.
7. The parking lot on the south side of the building was fenced for a playground with gates so it could be used for parking on Sunday.
8. Stan Perisho located some children’s cots at a Nazarene preschool in Commerce City.
9. Table and chairs were purchased.
10.Rest rooms were minified.
About this time, A.J. and Joan Ellis, from Grand Junction, were considering moving to Denver to allow A.J., to work on a degree program at a nearby University. At the Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting during the summer of 1972, Stan Perisho visited with A.J. and Joan about working for the church and starting a preschool. By August, the Ellis family had moved to Denver. A.J. became part-time Christian education coordinator for the church and Joan became the director of Little Friends Preschool.
The initial curriculum of the preschool was simple: teach children through their play based on research indication that play are a child’s work. The environment was carefully prepared to give optimal opportunities for exploration. Outside, gates and fences made the play area secure. In the grassy area behind the church office (no longer there), a climbing dome was added. The sloping parking lot was good for tricycles, wagons, and pretend gas stations. Indoors, at first the Sunday school toys were used and washed before and after Sunday. But the continuing financial help from the church budget, independence was slowing gained by the preschool.
Bible Story time was an important part of each morning. Concepts of God’s love and care, God’s creation, and how to love one another were stressed.
Among those working during the first year were April Lile, Diana Chambers, Lynette Krieger, Glenn and Aldeen
Culter, Darrell Green, Lois Goswick, Sue Holcombe, and Diana and Jeanette Street.
Lunch was delivered at first by a caterer group who also served several Head Start programs in the Denver Area. Morning and Afternoon snakes were simple – milk and fruit or graham crackers with peanut butter.
Janette Street later became the preschool director for many years. Enrollment grew to 60 with a staff of 12. Kindergarten was added in 1984 with Vicky Orwiller teaching. Vicky later moved on to directing at the center until 1997 and Sandy Loschiavo became the director. During these years, as was the trend in all preschools, learning became very structured and we got away from the play based curriculum.
In 1997, Susan Rider became the director of Little Friends Preschool many changes have taken place over the last 15 years. We no longer had Kindergarten because of children needing to get into their choice public school for first grade. So we adapted and added toddlers. This was such a success that we then added infants.
Quality was becoming a major issue in early childhood and we took on the task of moving toward National Association for the Education of Children accreditation as well as the state system of Qualistar. Teachers invested time in taking early childhood classes at the local community colleges (most have 21 hours now). We worked to receive grants from various agencies to improve the quality by adding new furniture and new equipment. As the teachers attended school and obtained degrees Susan Rider also felt that she needed to update her self. I received my Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education in 2008.
Little Friends believes that children should have a safe and happy time at school while being stimulated in the areas of social, physical, artistic and intellectual development. We believe each child is an individual and make conscientious effort to get to know each one in order to minister to specific needs in the continuum of growth. We believe a child’s day should contain both freedom to choose activities and structure to help children develop the social skills necessary to function in society at large. Further, we believe strongly in the family unit and desire to work directly with parents to do what’s best for each child.
In 2008, Little Friends of the Sunnyside Neighborhood of Northwest Denver applied for another grant to better serve our families. A very large percentage of children are receiving free or reduced cost lunches. Out of 250 births in our area, 40% were from teens and 50% were to unwed mothers. Only 40% of persons in our neighborhood have a high school diploma and 49% of births were to these women. Only 11% of 12th graders graduated.
Of our 59 children, 35 are on free or reduced lunch and we have 30 children on CCAP or TANF with Social Services. We currently have twenty four (31 enrolled) 3 and 4 year olds who meet 3 or more of the risk factors that contribute to school failure; the child is eligible to receive free or reduced cost lunches, homelessness of the child’s family, and abusive adult and drug or alcohol abuse in the family, parents were less than eighteen years of age, and unmarried at the time of the birth of the child, parents not graduating from high school or equivalent, frequent relocation of child’s family, and poor social skills and the child is in need of language development.
As we worked towards our 4 Star rating from Qualistar we will be working towards better family/staff relationships as we offer more interactions. With more interaction we are able to help families understand what we do to help their children be ready for school and also help them understand what their part is in helping also.
Through out the year we offer several opportunities for our parents to become involved outside the daily routines. We offer free monthly parenting classes to help parents participate in getting their children ready for school. We have 3 or 4 programs every year that are specifically designed with a family theme and everyone is encouraged to attend. We plan programs, which include singing songs, reciting poetry, present short plays, or have carnivals and group activities for families. We work with our families on the importance of early intervention and how to help them prepare their children for schools. We feel that helping a child develop and learn what he needs to succeed in school along with parent involvement will prepare the children for kindergarten and beyond.
In preparing for school readiness, these activities will help children to have healthy growth and development experience; children will enter kindergarten physically and mentally healthy; children live in safe and stable families; children at high development or social risk receive child development services; family environments support early learning; and child access to quality early care and education programs.
As we have sought to make improvements in our center to reach that 4 Star rating we have been able to purchase many new items for the classrooms. The staff has also taken classes in early childhood education. Several years ago, we were able to give our staff a bonus which was received with great enthusiasm. What I have also learned over the last few years is that you can buy all new things and have the best of everything but if you don't have the staff who are willing to make the needed improvements you won't reach that goal of quality. By providing stipends for all the hours that each staff member gives to improving the quality is probably one of the most valuable benefits that a center can give to their staff.
We feel the need to help our neighborhood more by providing this program to our families who are at risk of school failure.
Currently Little Friends has a 4 star Qualistar rating (out of 4 stars) and are renewing our NAEYC accreditation. We have received many honors over the years and have received around $150,000 in grant funds. We are participating in the Colorado Preschool Program through Denver
Public School as a community site with 22 children and also in the Denver Preschool Program which provides support for children in their year before Kindergarten.
As we have learned in our pursuit of quality, what we started out doing is what is best for children. Play is very important for children. All learning at this age is accomplished by hands on activities, by reinforcing brain synapses. We have also learned that learning begins at birth. We can't wait until Kindergarten. All children will learn everything they need by the age of three. After that they will be building on what they have previously learned. Brain development during the first three years of life is vital. Children are born with millions of neurons and what they don't use they lose.
In November we will be starting a new concept. We will be providing primary care and continuity of care for our children. Primary care incorporates one caregiver through infancy and toddlerhood. They then will have one caregiver for preschool. Continuity of care goes along with primary care giving. The teachers will move with the children to the next classroom instead of the children changing teachers. Only a few centers in the State of Colorado are doing this. Many eastern states are now making this a requirement for licensing. This is the best approach for infant and toddler care.
Each time a child changes a caregiver and classroom it takes sometimes up to 6 months to establish a relationship so that the child can begin learning again. A child could lose up to a year and a half learning time before they get to preschool.
As our neighborhood has changed over the last few years we are now serving different families. Some of the statistics still hold true but many are changing with more families involved with school readiness, making neighborhood schools accountable, wanting quality for children. We feel blessed that we have such dedicated families wanting the best for their children.