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St. Ann prepares for expansion of pre-kindergarten program

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Jamie Grigsby, pre-kindergarten teacher at St. Ann School, above, works with Lily Francescon. The school is preparing to expand its pre-kindergarten program next year. Photos by Andy Telli

A changing community has opened the door for St. Ann School to expand its pre-kindergarten program.

“For the past two years, we’ve seen a big increase in interest for our pre-kindergarten program,” said St. Ann Principal Anna Rumfola.

“We have a lot of dual income families moving into the area,” she said. “Families are looking for a community where their children will not get lost in the shuffle. … They love we’re in their back yard.”

Currently, St. Ann’s pre-kindergarten program has 24 3- and 4-year-olds, who are in the same classroom. “We’re reaching capacity so quickly,” Rumfola said.

Beginning with the 2021-22 school year, St. Ann will expand the program to two classes, one for 3-year-olds and another for 4-year-olds.

The maximum capacity for the 3-year-old class will be 18, and for the 4-year-old class it will be 20, Rumfola said.

The expanded program could reach its maximum capacity as early as the 2022-23 school year, Rumfola said, but likely it will take a year or two longer.

One of the draws of the program, and the school in general, is the sense of community families feel when they visit the school, Rumfola said.

That sense of community “is what St. Ann is all about. That’s why I wanted to come back here,” said Jamie Grigsby, the pre-kindergarten teacher and a St. Ann graduate. “Parents see that when they walk in the door.”

The school also offers a full pre-kindergarten program, Rumfola said. “It’s more than a day care. There’s an academic component, a spiritual component and a social component.”

The academic curriculum is based on the standards established by the Diocese of Nashville’s Catholic Schools Office.

The students in her class arrive with a range of abilities, which requires individual attention, Grigsby said.

Grigsby and her aide, Carol McCabe, divide the class into smaller groups so they can provide the individual attention needed, “which really allows our students to thrive,” Rumfola said.

“That’s where I can meet their individual needs,” Grigsby said. “The parents love the small groups. They enjoy seeing the growth in their child in the small group because they can see we’re working on individual things for their child.”

It also allows students to progress academically at their own pace, Grigsby said. “If they’re ready, you keep going, keep pushing and help them rise to their full potential.”

The school uses the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd curriculum for the pre-kindergarten class. “It’s very hands-on,” Rumfola said. “The students can really see Christ in the classroom.”

“We visit the church once a week and have religion class there,” Grigsby said. “They see God’s house.”

For children so young, the social component is important as they learn to interact with others. “I love watching them grow through the year,” Grigsby said. “It’s important.”

Grigsby saw the importance of the social component when the students returned to the classroom last August after having been away since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “You could see how happy they were to see their friends,” she said.

With the expansion, St. Ann will hire a second pre-kindergarten teacher and aide, and will use existing facilities.

The school started taking applications in November and have received 20 so far, heading into a busy recruitment period, Rumfola said. “We’re on schedule.”

When families express interest in enrolling in the program, the school first sets up an online call with them to talk about the program. If they are still interested, they will be scheduled for a tour that is held after the school day as a pandemic precaution, Rumfola said.

Pre-K teacher Jamie Grigsby, left, works with student Ruth Chinnery.

Families have full-time and part-time options. Full-time students are in the class Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Families can also choose a three-day option – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – or a two-day option – Tuesday and Thursday.

Before- and after-school care also is available beginning at 7 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m.

St. Ann also offers a summer camp, “which parents like,” Rumfola said. “They don’t have to find a summer camp for their 3-year-olds. It’s all here.”

The tuition for full-time students is $7,240 for Catholics who receive a parish subsidy and $9,900 for non-Catholics. For the three-day option, the tuition is $4,500 for Catholics and $6,000 for non-Catholics. And the two-day tuition is $3,200 for Catholics and $4,000 for non-Catholics. All students pay a registration fee of $250.

The expansion of the pre-kindergarten program coincides with the parish and school marking the 100th anniversary of its founding in July 2021. School officials are inviting parents “to come help us grow for the next 100 years,” Rumfola said.

She believes an expanded pre-kindergarten program will help boost the enrollment in the other grades.

“It allows us to position ourselves to have a larger kindergarten class each year,” Rumfola said. Currently, the school might have 10 4-year-olds moving from pre-kindergarten to the kindergarten class. With expansion, they could have as many as 20.

“Our retention rate from pre-kindergarten to kindergarten right now is very high,” she added.

The school’s enrollment has been on a steady rise the last four years, reaching 170 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade this year. Maximum capacity for the whole school with two pre-kindergarten classes and 22 students in every class would be 218.

The school already draws students from an area wider than the Sylvan Park neighborhood where it’s located, Rumfola said. “It might not be close to where they live, but it’s close to where they work.”

St. Ann’s location just a few blocks from Interstate 40 “really helps us,” she added.

For more information about St. Ann School and its pre-kindergarten program, call the school office at 615-269-0568 or visit saintannparish.org/school.

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