On Tuesday, St. Mark’s Preschool began its 25th year of providing what its leaders describe as “quality, cost-effective, inclusive preschool education and outreach” to families in the community.
The preschool was started in 1988 by Cynthia Michaels, a local occupational therapist, and Joyce Burnette, a mother of a child with Down syndrome. They envisioned a place where Julie, Burnette’s daughter, could play and learn side-by-side with her typical peers.
Before that time, there were few, if any, opportunities for children with special needs to interact with their peers in a positive learning environment. Twenty-five years later, the school is still one of the only educational facilities in the area that offers the unique environment that combines typical and special needs children in the same classroom.
St. Mark’s Preschool maintains one class of 2-year-olds that meets two times a week, a class of 3-year-olds that meets three times a week and a 4-year-old class that meets every day. The total enrollment is 36 children, 12 who have special needs. These special needs have included cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Prater Willi syndrome, autism, visual impairment, mitochondrial disorder, stroke and heart issues. The list goes on and on. The school’s pupil-teacher ratio is low, enabling it to meet the needs of all the children.
The interactions that take place in the classrooms provide opportunities that cannot be found in other environments. The typical children learn compassion, acceptance and leadership as they provide appropriate models and motivation for those that are challenged.
St. Mark’s is a private tuition-based preschool, but scholarships are available. In addition to the tuition, the school is financially supported by yearly fundraisers, including a chili supper (Nov. 9) and Mardi Gras (Feb. 9, 2013); the Mohawk Charities Foundation; Roman Open Charities; and private donations.
Twenty-five years later officials at the school still strive to make a difference in the lives of all children and their families. For more information, call Ellen Andersen at (706) 278-8857 or send an email to email@example.com.