JSD 117’s Early Years Program Celebrates 35th Anniversary with Open House, Spirit Week

By Benjamin Cox on April 22, 2022 at 6:53pm

Jacksonville School District 117’s Early Years program celebrated 35 years in existence last night with an open house. Students were allowed to play on the playground and have refreshments as the public got to ask questions and meet with teachers and the administration

Early Years Principal Sarah English says that the program has grown exponentially since it was started in 1986 with a single classroom of 15 kids and two teachers at the now-defunct Lafayette Academy: “This is my fifth year with the program, and as we have grown all the way from 1986 to now, I do feel like there has been a surge in understanding of our program, awareness of the program, and families wanting to be involved with their kids in Early Years. I think it’s just been wonderful. We’ve done a lot of community events to spread that awareness.”

Principal English

English says that she compares preschool to the kindergarten pendulum of the days before kindergarten enrollment was not mandatory: “It was maybe a half day or there was a rest in between or nap time. Now, look how kindergarten has grown since its development. That’s really what I see for preschool. I hope to see that in my lifetime – that it follows that same trajectory where we are able to serve everyone.”

Currently, the maximum number of students the Early Years program can serve is 240. English says the in-home portion of the Early Years program, where staff visit students in their homes and provide preparation for school away from home for students, had to flex and bend with the trials of Covid-19, but was able to still serve the community over the last two years. She says it went from doing virtual visits with students to setting up appointments at the Early Years building on Jordan Street in a hybrid format to back to full in-person visits.

The second anniversary celebration begins on Monday for students when the school will host a spirit week. English says the week is themed around the 1986 date: “We have theme days such as ‘Out of This World’ connected to the 1986 sighting of Haley’s Comet. We’ve got a sports day. [1985] was when the Bears last won the Super Bowl. It’s anything sports, but it’s where the idea came from. We have even got a career day, so we are asking students to think of their future self – you know, where do the kids see themselves in 35 years. It’s just a fun way to involve the families and kids, and another way to celebrate 35 years.”

English says she’s enjoyed watching the program grow to new heights each year. She says she sees preschool as a benchmark in development, education, and socialization for children. The school was also excited to get back to doing field trips once again. The first field trip in almost two years was taken this past Thursday with students venturing down the street to the Jacksonville Public Library for a reading and library exploration day.