By Celine Klosterman
OTTUMWA – By opening a new preschool class in a nearby Methodist church, Seton Catholic School has helped fill needs of the school, local parents and the church.
Since Aug. 28, 20 children ages 3 and 4 have been gathering for a Seton preschool program at First United Methodist Church across the street from the Catholic institution. The arrangement allowed the space-crunched Seton to shrink its long, annual wait list for preschool, and gave the church — which receives rent from Seton — a new opportunity to use its educational facilities. The new class also gave some parents a place to send their children three months after the Child Development Center at Ottumwa Regional Health Center closed.
“It’s a wonderful partnership,” Principal Julie Gentz said.
After beginning work at Seton in 2012, she found preschool teachers were frustrated by a recurring problem. “There would be a waiting list for enrollment — enough to start another class, but we didn’t have the space,” she said.
Seton has two half-day preschool programs and one full-day prekindergarten program at its school building; each of those classes is currently at its capacity of 20 students.
So this past summer, after seeing an old sign publicizing a preschool that First United Methodist once offered, Gentz asked if the church still had the space for a preschool class. “They said yes, so I thought maybe we could have our program there.”
Seton’s Board of Education stressed that the community should understand the preschool is run by a Catholic institution, Gentz said.
First United Methodist was receptive. “Ecumenism is very important to our tradition,” said the Reverend Jon Disburg, pastor. “This is a great opportunity for us to help Seton in their ministry of education and, at the same time, make full use of the wonderful facilities we’re blessed with here.”
The church opened up two third-floor classrooms that were being used for storage and refinished the floors. Seton put new air conditioning units in the windows. The building includes a small gym that preschoolers use, too.
Regenia Bradley, a member of First United Methodist, was grateful to be able to enroll her daughter in the new class. The student had previously attended the Child Development Center, which closed in late May. “I’d heard great things from other parents about the program Seton runs,” Bradley said.
The school hired a teacher and two associates for the new class. Last month, Seton was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation for the preschool. The program also receives tuition income and funding from the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program for Four-Year-Old Children.
Gentz said she hopes the expanded preschool will boost enrollment in upper grades at Seton, which currently has 60 students in kindergarten to fifth grade. “To grow the school, you have to start as early as you can. Then you need to figure out how to keep the students. This year, almost all our kindergarteners came from the preschool.”