After a rocky first few months, the new preschool program at Klukwan School is running well. Six 3-and-4-year-olds attend the Tuesday-through-Thursday morning program to play and learn with teacher Jeanne Kitayama. Klukwan School hopes the state grant-funded preschool continues in years to come, because it could help keep enrollment up at the small school.
“What makes green? Blue and…?” Kitayama asks. “Red!” one child responds.
The students are learning about colors today. Kitayama puts a few drops of blue and yellow food coloring in a sandwich bag of white rice, and zips it closed. Then, the children get to squish the bag so the colors blend and the rice turns green.
“The kids are all happy and the only time they cry is when they have to go home,” said Klukwan School lead teacher Kathy Carl. “There are several of them that want to stay in school all day.”
Carl says, it was challenging to get the preschool off the ground at the beginning of the school year.
“Because of staffing issues and finding housing for staffing…But now it is here and it’s together and it’s good to go. It’s up and running wonderfully.”
After a few months of sporadic staffing, Kitayama was hired in January to teach the preschool for the remainder of the year.
“They’re very playful and fun I find myself smiling a lot with them,” Kitayama said. “I think kids are so full of innocence and they live in the moment and I always feel like we have a lot to learn from them.”
26 Mile resident Nicholas Szatkowski enrolled his four-year-old Zorza in the preschool about two weeks ago.
“He’s loving it, it’s great,” Szatkowski said. “And living in this part of the Upper Valley, I probably wouldn’t drive all the way to town, it’s just not practical to do that, it doesn’t work that well spending two hours a day on the road. So having something in this part of the valley is great.”
While the preschool is happening Tuesday through Thursday morning, Klukwan School’s one Kindergartener and one first grader join in. Szatkowski says he likes the mix of ages. Kitayama agrees.
“That’s the beauty of multi-age, it’s mixing up grades to meeting everybody’s needs,” she said. “There’s the modeling with the older, but it’s also being able to meet their ability needs when they’re not in the same age group.”
The preschool program is funded by a grant of up to $30,000 from the Alaska Department of Education. It was obtained by the Chatham School District, which includes Klukwan, Angoon, Gustavus and Tenakee schools.
Chatham superintendent Bernie Grieve says he wants to keep the program going, whether or not they get the state grant next year. He says, the preschool could funnel in more students to Klukwan School and keep enrollment strong.
Kitayama says the reason she teaches preschool is because of the importance of early childhood education.
“I remember Father Oleska saying this that you know we have all these standards, but we have to teach children to be good human beings. And they can get a lot of that in the younger ages. And it’ll stick with them.”
After the colored rice craft (and spilling a good deal of it on the floor) preschool ends with circle time. The children take turns saying what makes them feel happy.
“I feel happy when I’m a superhero…I feel happy when people do what they promise…I feel happy when my momma agrees with what I say.”
And then the preschoolers say goodbye, until next week.