Church celebrates 50 years of preschool, kicks off new year

Published 8:12 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A preschool that has stood as a pillar of Christian-based education for over five decades celebrates a milestone in its history.

First Baptist Church’s WEE (Weekday Early Education) School kicks off a new year of preschool education based on both Christian principles and preparation for public school.

The school isn’t just a school; it’s a ministry, according to Head Wee School teacher Crystal Setzer.

“It’s a ministry to try to reach families through preschool children,” Setzer said. “We try to minister to the whole family. It doesn’t mean they’ll end up being members, although we’d love for them to come here, but if they’re directed to Jesus, that’s the most important thing.”

The school hasn’t changed much over the years, according to Reggie Baker, the school’s director. But it has grown to meet current standards, preparing children for further education while instilling Christian values.

The school began as an outreach tool in the community, based on a need to help parents prepare their children for more than just Sunday school, according to Baker.

The school was opened by Marion Walker with assistance from Jean Jones and Sue Mason, who served as educators and assistants for a number of years, according to Joy Stallings, director of Children and Outreach at the church. It was 1965, a time in which there were few preschools and daycare facilities for children.

“Mothers were beginning to seek work outside the home and needed a safe and economical place for their children to begin their formal education,” Baker said.

The school expanded children’s religious instruction, with the idea that more exposure to a Biblical education would enhance writing, reading and other learning skills. Classes were based on Christian life modeling, discipline and child nurturing, Baker said.

WEE School evolved a bit in the 1980s, as different learning styles in children, as well as the realization that society required children to progress more rapidly to be successful became evident. It became apparent, due to testing in lower grades, that earlier attention to basic skills needed to be a primary goal, Baker said.

FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH  EDUCATOR: Jean Jones, one of the first to teach at First Baptist Church’s WEE School, served as an assistant for seven years and a teacher for 12 years.

EDUCATOR: Jean Jones, one of the first to teach at First Baptist Church’s WEE School, served as an assistant for seven years and a teacher for 12 years.

Although it shifted its focus on developing children’s education to prepare for public education, the school never abandoned its Christian instruction.

The continuation of Christian education and principles is a quality that attracts many families to its doors, according to Stallings. The enrollment of children, in some cases, attracts families to join churches, if not First Baptist, itself. That was the case for Stallings and her family.

“Mainly, for me, I wanted to attend a church that had its own preschool and when I first came here, it was the first church we visited, and we were excited it had its own preschool. Both of (her children) were very prepared when they reached kindergarten.”

As more mothers began to go to work, the school expanded to accommodate 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds in a small-group setting, with a full-time teacher and classroom aide, Baker said. The school also follows the Beaufort County Schools calendar, which gets its students used to public school schedules.

WEE School upgraded its facilities via a $2.5 million expansion, including a new children’s wing, in 2011. Prior to that, the school was run in the church’s basement, but the expansion brought new equipment and a visual appeal that was visible to the community, Setzer said.

In 2012, the school adopted the ABEKA Pre-School Curriculum, a curriculum based on Christian perspective with an emphasis on building on development and readiness for Kindergarten and beyond, Baker said.

Setzer said the ABEKA program, also used at schools such as Pungo Christian Academy, builds on education from one year to the next, thanks to experienced educators.

It also takes a holistic approach to learning, with the consideration that all children learn differently through various mediums such as visual, auditory, sensory and others, as well as gain life and socialization skills, Setzer said.

“A lot of (children) who come, they’ve never been in a setting other than their homes or home daycares where they’re just keeping maybe one other kid,” Setzer said. “With (the school), they’re learning to be social, not just learning about number recognition and ABCs or writing names and letters. Kindergarten is so much pressure nowadays. We find that kids have all different learning styles so we try to adapt to different styles the kids have.”

The 2016-2017 school year begins Sept. 6 and is open Mondays-Fridays, from 9-11:30 a.m. Two- and 3-year-olds attend Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays and 4-year-olds attend every day.

First Baptist is also seeking former students of the school to reach out to the church and share their stories of attending the school, as well as any photographs they can provide, Stallings said.

To enroll a child in First Baptist Church’s WEE School, stop by the church’s office at 113 N. Harvey St. in Washington. For more information, call the church at 252-946-8074.