2-year-old program starts this year at St. Ann

When the 2011-12 school year begins in August, St. Ann School in Metairie will be bustling with 2-year-olds with the opening of a new building to house its inaugural 2-year-old Tot program.

Principal Susan Kropog said the 3,900-square-foot structure was designed by St. Ann parishioner and architect Kevin Morris of Holly & Smith Architects in New Orleans.
Kropog said Morris’ experience with early childhood centers led to the creation of an inventive learning environment for small children.

The space is divided into two distinct sections that create three classrooms. One room has 10-foot-tall ceilings, and the other has a vaulted ceiling with an exposed structure divided by a partition wall that forms a classroom on each side. Areas of activity such as a circle time area and a nap time area are all designed to teach independence.

“One room is over-sized and divided into two sections of 2-year-olds,” Kropog said.
Each of these two spaces has restrooms sized for tots  to encourage potty-training, and diaper-changing areas. All three spaces have low-to-the-floor windows through which children can look outside.

“We used fun, exciting and playful colors that coordinated with furniture selection,” Morris said.

The new building can accommodate approximately 45 students, Kropog said. It connects to the existing preschool building and incorporates blonde brick on the exterior to blend with the existing school buildings. Its cost is $960,000, Morris said.

Place for tots needed
Kropog, who has been at the school for 31 years, first as a teacher and since 1994 as principal, said she had no trouble filling the program, either. Initially, two classrooms were envisioned. But as parents began registering their children for the 2-year-old class earlier this year, it was quickly apparent that three classrooms would be needed, and there’s still a waiting list.

“You know the saying, ‘Build it, and they will come,’” she said. “Well, they came in that many numbers. The need was there to have a 2-year-old program.”
Father Michael Schneller, pastor at St. Ann, said the project was tackled at the same time as the remodeling of the church as a result of a parish study. The same architect and the same contractor, Voelkel-McWilliams Contractors, are being used.

Program long-envisioned
The need for the program had been anticipated years earlier during interviews he and the deacons had conducted with new parishioners, many of whom were young families with small children looking for a strong 2-year-old program, he said.
It was built on the parish campus where two homes that once served as meeting rooms and a pre-kindergarten classroom had existed.

St. Ann’s new Tot program serves as an extension to St. Ann’s early childhood program. Kropog said what sets this new program apart from others is that she hired three Early Childhood-certified teachers – all of whom either taught or had children attend St. Ann. Each has an assistant.

“We are fortunate because they know the philosophy of the school – the children are first,” Kropog said. “That’s why we’ve put so much emphasis on this early childhood education program. We give security care and social readiness skills ... and language development opportunities.”

Kropog said the new Tot program takes components from successful 2-year-old programs and merges them with tried-and-true elements of St. Ann’s existing preschool curriculum.
“There’s a fine line between structure and free time,” she said. “Two-year-olds need both. I’m proud because I feel the teachers who developed the program modeled the best advantages for the kids.”

Five full days, five half days or three either full or half days on Monday, Wednesday and Friday will be offered to families.
Other special aspects of the new program are a self-contained play area built specifically for 2-year-olds, and there will be a separate pick up and drop off area on a closed section of Lemon Street now renamed “Little Lemon Lane.”

Kropog sees adding a program for younger children as a plus for parents, including those with children at St. Ann and new parents.

“One of the reasons it’s beneficial to young parents is that we can identify difficulties that a child has and remediate it at a young age,” she said, even before parents might recognize a problem. “It will also help with the general growth of the school by getting children in at 2.”
The adding of 2-year-olds to the student population will be  especially helpful to working moms and those seeking one school for multiple children. It also will boost enrollment numbers to approximately 900, Kropog said.  

“We filled those (2-year-old rooms) with nothing but schematics to show people,” Kropog reflected about how fast parents registered. “When we have the rooms ready (to show for the next registration), it will be amazing.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.