Ascension Via Christi's Child Development Center to celebrate ‘Class of COVID-19’ kindergarten graduates | Ascension

Ascension Via Christi's Child Development Center to celebrate ‘Class of COVID-19’ kindergarten graduates

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, childcare was one of the many items on parents’ worry list, particularly frontline caregivers whose workplace contributions were essential and schedules not typical of other businesses.

It became paramount for some when Wichita schools closed with little to no advance warning.

To help, Ascension Via Christi, which has operated an onsite Child Development Center for more than 40 years, restarted its full-day kindergarten program, which had been discontinued nearly two decades earlier.

“When Otto was leaving preschool, that’s really when the COVID-19 pandemic started,” says Meg Troutman, whose son was one of the 10 children enrolled in the kindergarten program.

That was particularly helpful for Troutman, a psychiatric pharmacist at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph, and her husband, a local golf course superintendent, as their 2-year-old was already attending the CDC.

“Our fear was that school would get completely shut down after Otto began,” says Troutman, who was delighted when it was announced that the program had been licensed by the state as a non-accredited private school.

“We built the program from the bottom-up and created the class with the same educational curriculum as Wichita’s USD 259,” says Erica Rubin, the center’s director and a former kindergarten teacher herself. New furniture, materials and classroom supplies were brought in and teacher Madeline Sherman was hired to teach the 10 students who had been signed up.

“What better way to learn flexibility and Kindergarten than through the middle of a pandemic?” says Sherman. “It was exciting for everyone, including me, because it was my first year on my own.”

Tailoring the class to student needs

To help parents with children who would be turning 5 between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, several of the 10 classroom spots were reserved for “junior kindergarteners”.

“It was another way for us to offer flexibility to parents and enhance a child’s academic experience,” says Rubin. “Junior K children are able to adjust to higher academic expectations and a more rigid schedule while remaining in a familiar environment.”

Sherman says it was gratifying to see the children who fall in the birthday “gap” challenged.

“Seeing them reach above and beyond where they would be if they were in preschool again was amazing,” she says.

Another benefit to parents was the continuity. The CDC was scheduled to be closed only five weekdays during the entire 300-day school year, allowing parents ample time to make other arrangements for care.

“I feared shutdowns and having to find alternative childcare,” says Troutman, adding that she considered the CDC program “a blessing during a time when everyone was so stressed.”

A look ahead

Otto and the other kindergarteners will graduate on May 27, which parents, family and friends can view on Ascension Via Christi’s Facebook Live page.

“We are so excited to have our first graduating class in almost 20 years! We have diplomas, caps, and gowns for all of the children,” says Rubin.

Given the program’s success, the CDC is planning to offer the program again for the 2021-22 school year, providing another round of associates’ children with the opportunity to experience this specialized program.

Rubin and the rest of the staff are now gearing up for the center’s summer program, which is designed to provide a safe and fun environment for school-age children during the week. Kindergarten enrollees get priority registration for the summer program, which often fills up before the school year ends.

“Leaving your kids anywhere is hard, but knowing that they’re so well-loved is reassuring,” she says.

As for Sherman, she is looking forward to next year and having up to 10 children of Ascension Via Christi associates and their family members in her classroom.

“I absolutely love being here,” she says. “I feel like I’ve been here for years and like I’ve found my home for the next few decades.”