Messiah Lutheran celebrates 40th anniversary with fundraiser
What began as a single classroom consisting of less than 10 children in 1976 has evolved into a preschool and kindergarten program in Wauconda that has attained national recognition for excellence.
This journey began with one Messiah Lutheran Church parishioner, Grace Kirchner, who saw the need within the community for a quality preschool education program and became determined to fill it as the school's first director.
Now celebrating 40 years of operation, Messiah Lutheran Preschool and Kindergarten includes an enrollment of 150 children and offers before- and after-school care -- including for students in Wauconda Unit District 118 through fifth grade -- to meet a growing need.
"I started when the school started 40 years ago," said teacher Barb Lindquist, 77, who was a full-time mom at the time.
One day while at the church, "Grace (Kirchner) told me of her dream to have a preschool. It sounded like fun and I asked if I could be part of the staff. That was the beginning of the story, and I have never been sorry," Lindquist said.
"Over the years, I've taught more than 1,200 children and love every day I am there. I love the kids and hope to continue (teaching) for a few more years. It brings joy to my heart."
The school has grown over the years, not only in population but also in quality. Its goal is to offer a "premiere program that provides high quality education and includes a lot of parent involvement, as well as getting the whole family involved. We want to make learning fun for everyone," said school board president Ruth Ziolkowski, who also is the parent of former preschool students.
"Right now, we have before- and after-school care that is exploding because of the need."
School Director Erica Jawnyi said most preschools and kindergartens are accredited by the state Department of Children and Family Services. "We became accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children in 2003, which is a pretty prestigious award," she said.
When it opened, the school had a huge traditional playground with slides and climbing structures that scenically abutted a farm. Jawnyi wanted to enhance it and found the opportunity when teachers Lynda Janezic and Theresa Neumeier returned from a seminar.
"The teachers came back with tons of pictures and bubbling with excitement," Jawnyi said.
The idea to create the Nature Playground began to germinate in 2013 and "came to fruition in 2015. We continue to add to it."
This nature-based playground is geared to help children of all ages learn. It connects kids with nature, fosters creativity and inspires imaginative play using water, mud, sand, rocks and wood.
This kind of playground has been shown to encourage physical, emotional and social development through areas dedicated to music, art, climbing, building, getting messy, gardening and doing group activities, according to Nature Explorer, the company that designed the playground for Messiah Lutheran.
School officials incorporated the existing equipment into the new area.
"We want to offer different experiences kids might not have in their homes or other places, as well as embrace diversity and meet the needs of the community," Ziolkowski said.
"The Nature Playground is a perfect example of that. It teaches students how to appreciate their environment and to look around to learn how thing happen inside and out."
The school also hopes to build more STEAM-focused -- science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics -- programs in a way that is appropriate at the preschool level.
To support these programs and enhance the nature playground, a 40th Anniversary Gala Event fundraiser is set for 7-10 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Lindy's Landing in Wauconda.
The evening will feature gourmet tasting stations. live music by Joe Sena, and silent and live auctions. Tickets are $50 per person and can be reserved by calling (847) 526-7479.
Several teaching alumni and previous directors plan to attend, as well as students and former students who are now parents and plan to bring their own children. Lindquist will be honored at this event for her 40 years of teaching excellence.
"People come and go," Ziolkowski said, "but to have a staff member who has been with the program for 40 years and is still as passionate as the first day she started says so much about that program. That passion drives people to excellence in teaching and to connect with families and students."