The nearly 100 Lynden Schools preschool students walked into their new home when in-person learning started for them on Sept. 28, 2020. And what a welcome sight it was.
As part of remaking of the Main Street Campus—the reusing of a portion of the former Lynden Middle School for office space and preschool—four new preschool classes were created, complete with space for specialists. They were built to the exact specifications of a 3- and 4-year-old’s needs.
“It was designed for the age group as opposed to fitting into a space,” says Rebecca Morgan, the district’s director of special education. “I think having things at the kids’ level, being able to build the space to allow for play and for learning, we were specifically thinking about the developmental needs of preschoolers as opposed to older students. How can we create a room that allows for all the needed factors?”
The preschool moved to the Main Street Campus from the Lynden Academy site where it was previously housed. At Lynden Academy the preschool had just three teachers, but the additional square footage at the Main Street Campus opened up the ability to have a fourth teacher. While the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced class sizes to accommodate social distancing, having that fourth classroom has proven pivotal in still providing nearly 100 students access to preschool learning.
The Lynden preschool program includes students with a mixture of needs, from those with individualized education programs due to various developmental needs and also peers from the community. With a diverse student population come additional space requirements, such as for an occupational therapist, physical therapist and speech and language pathologist. They all have room to set up in the new space.
Robin Latham, Lynden Schools psychologist, says student’s developmental needs run a wide range, but the inclusive program that has students with intense concerns learning right alongside their peers provides benefits for everyone. “The children teach each other, and they are more motivated to play together,” she says.
Morgan says Lynden Schools worked hard to get the space ready for the preschoolers and adapt it to pandemic requirements, knowing preschool learning online is a difficult prospect (Lynden Schools does still offer limited online services for students whose families aren’t ready to return).
“I think what was neat was the excitement of kids, even though it was new and different,” Morgan says. “Teachers created visually welcoming spaces for kids and what is important is that someone sees you, someone cares about you and someone wants to develop your potential. Students were really adaptable and up for the challenge and, in the end, happy to be in school.”
Each teacher set up their classroom in their own way, but most have chosen to use the space to have a literacy area and space for gatherings, all while putting their own spin on it.
“I think the reason why it worked this year was because of the amazing teachers and staff who put students first,” Morgan says. “They were flexible and creative and found ways to ensure safety protocols were in place and that students could have a positive learning environment. Parents have also been incredible partners in making this all happen. It is great to see what can happen when a caring group of people all work together for the good of students.”
Preschool a Community Service
Not only does Lynden Schools provide preschool to the community, but they also offer free screenings and assessments if parents have questions about their child’s development. For students with needs, the preschool is offered at no charge. Lynden Schools not only can screen and assess on site, but at times can bring in community resources to work with students at the school.
“We want to connect with the community and be accessible,” Latham says. “We turn no child away.”
Morgan says they hope to identify kids in need early because early childhood development is so critical to the long-term success of the students. “If families have questions,” she says, “we want to be a resource to help with that.”