' Forgotten school' celebrates family, joy of learning

Posted 4/8/21

By ARDEN BASTIA "When you enter this loving school, consider yourself one of the special members of an extraordinary family," reads a large poster with brightly colored letters in the foyer of the WELC preschool at John Brown Francis. It hangs on a

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' Forgotten school' celebrates family, joy of learning


“When you enter this loving school, consider yourself one of the special members of an extraordinary family,” reads a large poster with brightly colored letters in the foyer of the WELC preschool at John Brown Francis. It hangs on a brick wall above a wooden bench, flanked by hand carved wooden dolphins reading books.

The chatter of students can be heard in the halls. A preschooler pulled in a plastic red wagon rolls by, waving to teachers and staff.

“We really embrace the family culture here,” said Julie Martin, early childhood coordinator at Warwick Early Learning Center (WELC). With roughly 130 students, 14 teachers, 28 TAs, as well as numerous speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, an evaluation team, custodians and nurses, the WELC preschool is like a small village.

“We’re like a forgotten school,” she said. “Families and the community are now realizing what we do here. We have some incredible families at this school, and they really trust us. It’s all about trust. They drop their little three year old at the door and trust us to teach them and help them grow.”

The WELC preschool at John Brown Francis is celebrating the Week of the Young Child from April 10 to April 16.

This is Martin’s first year organizing the event. Martin is “essentially the principal,” she said in an interview last Wednesday. “I manage the day to day operations of the building; everything a principal would do, I do.”

Prior to her current role, Martin was a social worker for 14 years at WELC.

The Week of the Young Child (WOYC) is part of a national event celebrating teachers, families, young students, and learning, from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). This is the 50th anniversary of the event, but only the second time the WELC center has celebrated.

During last year’s WOYC, teachers largely chose to celebrate within their own classrooms so Martin is looking forward to celebrating center-wide this year.

“The purpose of the week is to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and the programs that meet those needs,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate the kids and the hard work everyone is doing.”

Martin chose to coincide the WOYC with WELC’s spirit week. Each day of the week will feature a new theme and activities. Monday is themed Music Monday and will feature a virtual dance party for both in-person and distance learners. On Tasty Tuesday, students will be focusing on food and healthy eating by compiling a child center friendly cookbook with recipes submitted by families. On Work Together Wednesday, students will be making puzzle collages to be displayed around the school. On Artsy Thursday, Martin says the school “will be embracing all things art” by decorating rocks to add to the WELC rock garden. On Family Fun Friday, the school community and family will be emphasized, and students will work on creating family trees.

“I really couldn’t ask for a better faculty and staff to work with, especially navigating this year,” said Martin. “They have really gone above and beyond, and they’re such a flexible and creative team.”

The WELC has been open for in-person learning since the beginning of the school year in September, but did have to close last March when the rest of the district made the switch to distance learning.

“Teaching through a pandemic is difficult, but teaching preschool is super challenging,” said Martin.

Teaching preschoolers through Google Meets and virtual platforms isn’t the most ideal way of engaging with young students. “Lots of our students need that social emotional development that really takes place in a learning environment,” said Martin in an interview.

To accommodate for distance learning, teachers at WELC assembled bags of activities for each student to keep them engaged, and provide resources for parents at home.

Teachers and faculty are “very excited” to be back in the classroom full-time, explained Martin, who also pointed out that “the best learning happens when students are around their peers and engaged in purposeful play, which is difficult to do at home.”

WELC also has a partnership with the Volunteers of Warwick Schools (VOWS) program, conducting developmental screenings on all children ages 3 to 5 in the district. These screenings are available to all families, and more information can be accessed by called VOWS at (401) 298-6973.

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