By Tony DeGol
Most people have heard of the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum.
In reality, a strong foundation for life is actually laid earlier, and a visit to Our Lady of Victory Preschool can prove it.
“What we do is work with children from two-and-a-half to five years, and we really help them to form a strong foundation in both academics and social-emotional development,” noted Director Doctor Dawn Lorenz. “We want them to develop a love of learning that’s going to stay with them for years to come, and we want them to get to know God and learn how to serve God and love God and know that God loves them.”
The OLV Preschool experience is centered on faith, fun, and learning, added Lorenz.
The school, located on the campus Our Lady of Victory Parish in State College, uses Pennsylvania’s Learning Standards for Early Childhood to guide youngsters through the curriculum.
“But I think the real take-home is that play is the child’s work and we really see that allowing the child to play to learn is this fundamental piece where they can go home and say they had a popsicle, but they also learned how to conflict solve with a friend, how to make a friend, how to sit in circle time, how to line up,” Lorenz stressed. “How to live and be in this wonderful world is so fundamental for what’s coming next, so we really hope we lay the ground work. Some of the many skills we take for granted as adults start right here.”
And like all Catholic schools in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Jesus Christ is front and center.
Although Religion is not a formal class, faith is woven into most aspects of daily life at the preschool.
“We start the day, end the day, and before a snack have a prayer, said teacher Elizabeth Sechler. “That’s a very simplistic way of including Religion and them finding joy in it.”
Being located next door to Our Lady of Victory Church is another plus.
“Many times we have talked about something in class, shown videos or shown pictures, and then we have the ability to go right over to the church and look at it and discuss what to do during Mass,” added teacher Olivia Sipler. “It’s really great that everything is right here on site for us.”
Like all Catholic schools in Altoona-Johnstown during this pandemic, OLV Preschool remains committed to in-person learning with even greater emphasis than normal on health and safety.
According to Lorenz, the school was already doing a lot of cleaning and encouraging children to frequently and thoroughly wash their hands. Those efforts are stepped up now, along with working with youngsters to properly wear masks and practice physical distancing.
The preschool developed an extensive health and safety plan that aligned with the Centers for Disease Control; the Pennsylvania Departments of Health, Human Services, and Education; and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
“We had a lot of wonderful guidelines to go by, and it helped us to figure out a safe way to allow our preschoolers, our families, and our teachers to come back,” Lorenz added.
“We’ve added some things that are great for some of the families,” offered teacher Amber Panetta. “We used to have everyone come into the building and now we actually greet the children on the sidewalk and walk in with them every morning. We create a very happy atmosphere when you get out of the car in the morning. We’re here, we’re dancing on the sidewalks, we’re here to do whatever the kids need us to do.”
The way OLV Preschool rose to the challenges is a testament to the family atmosphere and commitment to the mission.
“That’s one of the reasons why I chose to come to OLV Preschool after all my years of public education,” said teacher Holly Walker. “I like having year after year some of the same children or same families because there is just so much caring and so much development that you get to see.”
For teacher Allison Royes, it is about relationship-building with the students and families.
“It continues even when they leave the school,” she insisted. “I see them, I go visit them still.”
With plenty to experience before entering the kindergarten classroom, Our Lady of Victory Preschool stands ready to welcome and serve early learners.
“There is a lot happening for these little people, and we love being there for the entire journey and helping to form that foundation so they can go on,” said Lorenz.