Learning center offers introduction to school

Meagan Engelbrecht, a sixth-grade student at Immanuel Lutheran School in Honey Creek, reads to a preschool student, Kendall Wood, 4, as part of their regular classtime activities. On a regular basis, the older students go to the younger students’ room to read to them.

Meagan Engelbrecht, a sixth-grade student at Immanuel Lutheran School in Honey Creek, reads to a preschool student, Kendall Wood, 4, as part of their regular classtime activities. On a regular basis, the older students go to the younger students’ room to read to them. Photo by Julie Smith.

HONEY CREEK, Mo. — Structure and fun, expectations and room for creativity — the Immanuel Lutheran Learning Center offers pre-kindergarten preparation in a faith-based environment.

“The staff are warm with the kids; they’re a great surrogate while we’re not there,” said mother Linette Sommerer.

As a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sommerer said it seemed logical to send her daughter, Natalie, who now is in first grade. After that experience, she was eager to send her son, Owen, 4, and another in the future.

“The staff is really what makes the difference for me,” she said. “They learn about a lot of things I wouldn’t have thought about.”

Trisha Heimericks has been the lead teacher since 2007. In that time, her staff has increased from one to two additional teachers — Lizzie Libbert and Martha Plassmeyer.

For now, the preschool classroom is in the basement, while church members volunteer time to finish construction on the final elementary classrooms in the new addition.

Immanuel Lutheran’s school-based preschool program has been in place for at least two decades.

Unlike many school-based preschools, the Immanuel Lutheran program operates year-round.

“That’s a comfort, knowing he has a place to go,” Sommerer said.

The littlest students often interact with the rest of the school community, including Wednesday chapel or attending special events like Friday’s school musical.

“It gives them a sense of belonging,” Heimericks said. “They’re more prepared when they get to the big school environment.”

They also have weekly visits from their fifth- and sixthgrade Reading Buddies. The one-on-one time to read allows the younger ones to pick out their favorite books and discuss them with an older peer.

As the fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, Leanne Bonnett said the program is beneficial for her students as well as the little ones. Oral reading builds confidence and comprehension for the older students.

It also “strengthens the sense of community between our student body, which is critical to creating the bonds of a Christian family atmosphere in our school system,” Bonnett said.

More than half of the preschool students, ages 3-5, will attend Immanuel Lutheran Elementary School.

Because Honey Creek is centrally located, they see children who will eventually attend Cole County R-5, St. Thomas, St. Stanislaus and other neighboring schools.

Heimerichs stays in contact with area kindergarten teachers to ensure her students have been exposed to all the concepts to help them transition easily to the next level.

A focus has been made to improve equipment and manipulatives in the program, including a playground train purchased with help from the Parent Teacher League.

Jefferson City Gymnastics has been providing physical activity one hour each week for several years. The pilot program with Immanuel Lutheran has been so successful, the organization intends to replicate its effort in other parochial schools.

“Most important is to have Christ in their lives,” Heimerichs said.

From science discussion about who created nature to holiday symbols like St. Patrick, matters of faith are incorporated into everyday activities.

“I think they are capable of more than we noticed before,” Heimerichs said of the growing knowledge expectations for entering kindergarten.

Today, for example, children are expected to know their letters and numbers, be able to write their name and be familiar with the concept of time.

“Their young minds are absorbing; it’s important to introduce these concepts,” Heimerichs said.

Web link: www.midmoimmanuel.com

Accompanying photo: Meagan Engelbrecht reads to Kendall Wood

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