Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 6, 2013

After 67 years, the St. John’s kindergarten continues to prepare young children for public school.
At the behest of the Rev. P.D. Brown, the kindergarten opened in 1946 with 12 students, nine of whom were church members. Ruth Uzzell was teacher and Annie Seagle was assistant.
Director Teresa Stoner has a master’s degree in early childhood education and teaches early childhood education courses part time at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. She took over from Pat Epting, who retired in 1997.
“I came in 1964 to help teach,” Epting says, “and I stayed until 1997. There were long waiting lists. People put their children on the list before they were born.”
Epting fondly recalls the many field trips, and the “nurturing, caring Christian environment” that still exists now.
“It’s definitely a nurturing environment,” Stoner says. “So much of that is because of our excellent staff and our low staff turnover.”
In addition to Stoner, who teaches the 4-year-olds, Bonita Rowland has been with the kindergarten for 17 years. Cindy Patterson has been teacher assistant with Stoner for 10 years, and Joy Fisher, a secretary/registration assistant, has been on staff for 16 years. Margaret Meek now serves as interim assistant for the kindergarten class. A new assistant, who is a certified teacher, will start in the fall.
“There’s not been a lot of turnover with lead teachers,” Stoner says, “which means we’re blessed with a lot of experience here. Beyond that, we take very seriously our role as a Christian school. That’s a big part of what we do.”
The children enjoy Bible stories and songs daily, and have chapel once a week with a member of the church’s ministerial staff.
“In addition, we’re a very structured program,” Stoner says. Children also have access to computers; and teachers and students use Smart Boards daily.
“Our curriculum is Common Core-based,” Rowland explains. “When our students leave the kindergarten program, they are ready for first grade.
“Best of all, we’re able to be a small, nurturing environment for many of our children to get their first start in school.”
Stoner admits that in nearly 70 years, times have changed, especially as the state considers requiring pre-K instruction for all kids.
The St. John’s Child Development Center has recently become part of the N.C. Pre-K program, so there’s been a bit of confusion among parents as to which program to send their child.
“The CDC is a wonderful program,” Stoner says. “Thankfully we have two strong programs here.”
The kindergarten has 40 students in its program, one class for 4-year-olds and one for 5-year-olds. It is a half-day program, as opposed to the CDC’s program, which offers a full day of care for 4-year-olds. The N.C. Pre-K program is for families who meet certain criteria, either being income eligible, and/or having a child with a disability or developmental delays, explains CDC Director Joanna Smith.
“We serve two different groups.”
Both programs offer a Christian environment for young children.
Certified teachers lead both programs.
Carole Parrott is a member of the kindergarten’s advisory board and a member of St. John’s. Three of her four children were students there.
“It’s a fabulous ministry of our church,” she says. “The teachers work well together and they run a top program.”
“I’d go back to that kindergarten if I could,” says Kathy Rusher, a St. John’s member and mother of three children, all of whom were students there. Rusher still lends support to the kindergarten, both emotionally and financially.
“The students receive love and attention, yet are held to high expectations. There is a learning environment that teaches listening and respect, yet they have a wonderful time with fun and laughter, too. It takes the love and hugs for a pre-school program and the learning of a traditional kindergarten classroom and blends it together. It’s a great four hours every day.”

Susan Shinn is communications assistant for St. John’s Lutheran Church