Story and Photos by Alice Gerard
Senior Contributing Writer
A new child care center director, Athena Torain, has taken over running the educational programs at St. Timothy Evangelical Lutheran Church and Child Care Center. She said she is excited to work in a faith-based educational program for young children.
In addition, St. Timothy will host a universal pre-kindergarten class for the second year. Torain said there are 10 slots for children in the universal pre-kindergarten class.
Torain’s immediate goals for the child care center are to “get us fully staffed, fully enrolled for all our classrooms. Obviously, adequately staffed with people with child care experience. Have our children thrive and be nurtured by our teachers so they can grow in their faith.”
The Rev. Adam Arends, pastor of St. Timothy Evangelical Lutheran Church, explained, “I’m technically head of staff because the day care center here is a ministry of our church. It’s an extension of our congregation. That’s part of my role. The other part is to help foster faith in the kids. One way we do that is we hold children’s church once a week. The kids come in two rounds: older kids and younger kids, to do what we call children's church. We sing songs, and I tell a little story, or we read a book and do some actions. We introduce them to faith and who Jesus is and remind them that God loves them.
“For me, with children’s church and with our Sunday school and even with our confirmation program, which doesn’t have anything to do with the child care center, my main message is to make sure kids know that God loves them, and they are welcome in church. That’s my main goal. To me, that’s where a life of faith starts is to know that you’re loved. You can figure out the theology and complex stuff as you go along. It’s still a mystery to most of us.”
Children’s church occurs during school hours, and it includes all children except for the group who is in the UPK classroom, “which, of course, has to be separate. Those kids don’t come in when they’re in the UPK classroom,” Arends said.
Universal pre-kindergarten is a state-funded program.
Torain talked about “having children learn about God early or even about faith in general and learning what it means and all the additional things that come with it. Whether it’s loving each other or just helping anyone, I think those are key components for a child to learn early. So, they can grow up to be a nice grown-up.”
Inclusion is also an important goal in the child care center, Torain said: “We’re inclusive so, when we have children with disabilities, they have certain paperwork that we have to fill out, depending on whether it’s a 504 educational plan or an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). Then we need to accommodate them. I support having inclusive classrooms because I think that it’s a great chance for children to learn before they’re in the school setting about differences and how to accommodate them.”
Torain, who has a degree in childhood education from Fredonia University, said the thing she likes best about education is “seeing the ‘aha!’ moment. When I was teaching, I saw it more. When (children) finally realize something they’ve been struggling with, whether it’s trying to figure out what number comes next or what the letter is or what the word is. That ‘aha!’ moment. You can always see it in their face. Or even with our infants, when they’re trying to pull themselves up. They finally get up and they’re like, ‘Whoa!’ It’s a whole new world. That’s my favorite part of working with kids, I think.”
Torain said it’s necessary to observe the kids before figuring out how best to teach them: “You have to know your students first, or your children first in our case. You need to know how they learn best and what their needs are that need to be met. Infant rooms, obviously, it’s developmental for fine motor and gross motor. So, anything with movement is good for them. When they get older, they can learn through play, dramatic play, imitation. I think that’s one of the biggest ways toddlers learn.”
Torain said she is looking forward to offering the children plenty of opportunities to go outside: “I believe they go outside in every season. They have snow stuff, so they get to play in it when we have our eight months of snow.”
On Aug. 30, the child care center celebrated its end-of-summer kickoff party before closing for two days of cleaning in anticipation of the new school year. Katelyn, the lead teacher for the UPK program, said the kids most enjoyed the petting zoo and the bounce house.
“I liked the petting zoo! I love the goats. They’re my favorite,” she said.
Torain said the child care center is looking to hire more staff: “We’re looking for more teachers and aides.”
Qualifications for the aide position are to have experience with children, and a high school diploma or a GED (or to be working toward earning one).
“It’s the learning position, so you can learn everything you need to know,” Torain said.
Torain said she is happy to settle into her new job at St. Timothy: “I’ve worked at multiple day cares. I’ve also done different jobs. In my previous job, I was an assistant director and then a director. Last year, I had a baby. I am back from having my son, and we are going to join the family here at St. Tim’s, so my children will be attending two days a week, as well.”
Katelyn and her group of children who will enter the Universal Pre-kindergarten program next week.