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Christian preschool gets ready to go at Crossroad

Crossroad Community Church west of Ellsworth on Hwy. 10-63 is preparing to take the next step with its new Children and Youth Center.

Already home to a youth hall and Sunday school classrooms, the center will be the site for a Christian preschool this fall. Jill Whalen is the teacher at Sonshine Christian Preschool.

"I've always wanted to teach somewhere," said Whalen, who graduated with elementary and special education degrees from Winona (Minn.) State University in 1996.

The opportunity arose after the Alma native served in several volunteer positions with the church, in its nursery and Sunday school, she said Friday. Organizers sensed the need for a preschool here, aware at least a couple of these in this vicinity no longer operate and local families looking for a Christian version have to travel as least as far as Red Wing or River Falls.

"We want to be a blessing to the community, relative to its needs," Pastor Matt Anderson said.

Whalen said the combined curriculum will address four areas: academic, social, physical and spiritual. It will be biblically based: stories used to learn letters, for example, will be from the Bible. Yet, religious denominations won't be a major factor.

"We've been told by parents who've registered they just want good, moral kids," the pastor said.

The preschool started taking registrations in March, coming from families with many church affiliations, the teacher said. There are still a few openings left in the mornings, among 16 total availabilities overall. Interested parents can contact her at 273-5359 or the church at 273-3678 for a packet; a waiting list will be created if the demand exceeds the remaining spaces.

Three-, four- and five-year-olds will populate the preschool, which will be in session for two-and-a-half hours each Tuesday and Thursday mornings and afternoons, she said. The opening will coincide with that of area public schools in September.

"We're almost licensed," she said, expecting that aspect to be completed next month.

Licensing is part of a planning process that's been underway for the last eight months, Whalen said. Initially, the facility will be licensed as a family-size preschool, meaning a maximum of eight children per session, but could be expanded to group-size and a larger number in the future. She said such increases would likely be made at the start of terms during the regular school schedule.

The state requires information about content to be reported, but doesn't dictate what can be taught or included, such as prayer time and the like, said the educator, who intends to be creative in her approach. Parents are allowed to be present at sessions and their support of the operation is encouraged. Various adults and youths in the church have offered to help with off-time projects, if needed, while several have donated to toys and furnishings, or their construction skills.

The large academic learning space in the center previously housed some furniture and equipment, as Sunday school has been conducted there, the pastor said. A sink was installed for kids' hand-washing and an outdoor playground will soon be established adjacent. The entire preschool effort is a ministry of the church, overseen by its board.

An open house for parents who've already registered, those wishing to register and anyone interested in Sonshine Christian Preschool will be held next Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. Church staffers will be present to welcome and guide visitors, as will Whalen. She and husband Chad, a physical education teacher at the local middle and elementary schools, have a preschooler of their own--three-year-old daughter Cambria--along with sons Emery, age nine, Noah, seven, and Solomon, five.