Preschool offerings in Sisters Country have changed and expanded for the 2020-21 school year, giving parents more options than ever at a time of heightened need.

Preschool will be offered at Sisters Elementary, Wellhouse Church, and through Sisters Parks & Recreation District (SPRD).

Thanks to the award of a state-funded Preschool Promise grant Sisters Elementary School will be operating a program independently this year. For the past number of years, SPRD operated preschool at the elementary site in cooperation with the school district for 3 and 4 year olds.

According to the Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division, Preschool Promise grants are awarded in order to support “publicly funded, high quality, local and culturally-relevant early child care and education programs.”

The target population for the Preschool Promise grants are children in families that are living at 200 percent of the poverty level, as well as other underserved children in the community.

A slowdown in the grant-awarding process due to COVID-19 resulted in the school district having to postpone hiring teachers, which subsequently delayed the start of the program to late September, according to Principal Joan Warburg.

Despite the delays, Warburg is ecstatic that things are coming to fruition.

“We have our staff hired now and we are thrilled to be offering this service to our families, as we believe passionately in equitable opportunities for all children,” she said.

Mylee Card, who will implement the program, concurred, saying “I’m so excited to be a part of implementing the Preschool Promise Pre-K classroom at SES. Being a kindergarten teacher I know exactly what I would like my students to be able to do when they enter my kindergarten classroom and we will be able to provide these foundational skills to our pre-K students.”

According to Warburg, Sisters Elementary will be able to accommodate up to 18 students and noted that families will need to apply and qualify through the Early Learning Hub of Central Oregon.

“The state is currently finalizing criteria and we will be releasing the information as soon as all the details are finalized,” she said.

SPRD, which has offered preschool for the past 10 years, will continue to do so, continuing its cooperation with the school district, but at a new site on the grounds of Sisters Community Church in the former Sisters Christian Academy building.

Jennifer Holland executive director at SPRD explained that a number of factors contributed to the change of location, including the elementary school’s need to allocate space and Sisters Community Church’s desire to be of help to the community.

“Our attitude is that we are all in this together for kids and families, so SPRD will continue to work in collaboration with the school district, including on teacher training and staff development,” said Holland.

Due to COVID guidelines, the SPRD preschool will have one cohort of 3 and 4 year olds that will be in a full-day program and two other groups that will be half-days.

“The ‘Firefly’ program will be full day, while the ‘Dragonfly’ and ‘Grasshopper’ cohorts will be half-day,” she said. Rather than strictly being grouped by age, the cohorts will be determined by schedule needs of the families, according to Holland.

Holland reported that as of August 21, a total of 40 kids had registered. Funds from the State of Oregon Employment Related Day Care (ERDC) program can help qualified parents cover the costs of SPRD preschool, according to Holland. Financial aid is also available through the Bonnie Malone Scholarship fund.

“It’s been a lot of work, but we are ready to kick off a great school year for these kids,” said Holland.

She acknowledged the Sisters Community Church’s commitment to being a positive contributor to young people in Sisters.

“They are pleased their building can be used and they are developing ideas for other supports for young people including mentoring,” she said.

The SPRD program is set to start on September 1. Registration and other information about the program can be found at the SPRD website at www.sistersrecreation.com/activity-category/preschool/.

Another addition to the preschool scene, also starting September 1, is the Wellspring Preschool and Child Care Center, which will be operated through Wellhouse Church and directed by Mary Ryan. According to Ryan, Wellhouse church recognized the growing need for preschool education, as well as childcare, in Sisters and responded accordingly.

“An important core foundation at Wellhouse Church is building community, so it seemed natural to include preschool and childcare as an integral part of building and loving our community,” she said. “When Sisters Christian Academy closed, it opened the door for Wellhouse to step in and continue a quality faith-based preschool.”

Wellspring Preschool is open to ages 3 to 5 for both half day and full day Monday through Thursday, and the Wellspring childcare will serve ages 3 to 12 Monday through Friday, including hours before and after school.

The Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce lent its support to the new preschool by granting a $2,500 to help provide families with scholarships.

Registration and other information is available at on the school’s facebook page (Wellspring Preschool and Child Care Center), via email at info@westsidesisters.org6 or by calling 541-549-4184.