In May, the halls of St. Edward School were silenced when it officially closed its doors after 134 years of continued Catholic education in downtown Little Rock.
But the silence did not last long. On Aug. 19, the laughter and learning began to float through the classrooms once again with the official opening of the St. Edward Early Learning Center.
“A lot of our parishioners are really active in letting everybody know we’re here and we’re open and we just want to grow and continue to give early Catholic education to our children and get them ready for kindergarten,” said center director Janie Krone, a parishioner at St. Edward Church.
The childcare and pre-school program, open to children 2½ to 5 years old, operates Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at $130 per week.
Extended drop off at 6 a.m. and pick up no later than 8 p.m. is offered. There are no discounts for St. Edward parishioners. Holiday and summer care programs will be offered for children up to 12 years old. Summer care will have the same standard rates and starts May 26.
The facility is fully licensed under state regulations by the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Krone is the only current fulltime teacher on staff, with Laura Zapata working part-time as a teacher’s aide. Zapata, who is going through additional certification, and others who have already completed background checks and other necessary training are on standby to fill more part-time and full-time positions if the class size increases, Krone said. There are currently six children in the program, with some who are not Catholic. About 30 could be enrolled, she said.
Krone, who had homeschooled her children, was the former director of the summer and after- school program at the now-closed Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Little Rock and worked at a North Little Rock Montessori school. She was looking to eventually leave her corporate job when the learning center director position became available.
“I knew the Lord was leading me back,” to childcare, but Krone said she hadn’t planned on leaving for another two to three years. But the Early Learning Center, which was looked at in the spring and began to materialize around June, was too good to pass up.
“God just took me from being in that stressful … high-pressured environment. He orchestrated those puzzle pieces exactly when and where it needed to happen. I’m just in awe.”
Krone said she’s focused on creating a “developmentally appropriate atmosphere,” focused on learning through play.
“Very gentle, easy ways of incorporating real concepts in play that they naturally understand and gravitate to anyway,” preparing them for kindergarten without pushing academia too soon, she said, adding “Little do they know this is laying the groundwork and foundation” for their future education.
The children have a variety of learning centers, including blocks and dress-up, and circle time. Children are not forced to focus on one center, but can choose where to learn for the day.
“Say we’re studying about caterpillars and we might read ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and we might talk about metamorphosis in is a very simplified way,” Krone said, adding, “Then we might also … read “Inch by Inch” by Leo Lionni and talk about measurement” using blocks.
Children also spend time on the playground, eating snacks and resting during quiet time.
Though it shouldn’t “span too large of an age range,” Krone said having varying ages together encourages mentoring in older children.
Pastor Father Juan Manjarrez has visited, children are slowly learning the Our Father and Hail Mary and there is a prayer center in the classroom. Krone hopes to work toward having Mass for the children about once a month, showing them “how to be in church and what kind of behavior is expected to see Jesus.”
“My goal once a month is to spend a few minutes in the adoration chapel, in the presence of our Lord just to expose them and help them understand that you can talk to Jesus anytime and he always listens but there are special moments you can have to be quiet and talk to him,” Krone said.
Laura Zapata, former receptionist at St. Edward School, said when she joined St. Edward Church four years ago with her husband after moving from Dallas, she was “totally embraced” and found a family.
“Letting the children go, it kind of felt in a way that we let them down. That was hard realizing that,” she said of the school closing. “… We know (God’s) in control at the end. So he had better plans for us.”
Gina Garcia, whose family attends St. Theresa Church in Little Rock, takes her daughter, Donaji, 4, to the Early Learning Center. Her daughter has been in daycare since she was a year-and-half old, but Garcia said she’s finally found a center focused on her happiness and teachers that give her proper attention.
“It’s the best option for her,” Garcia said, adding it’s great to build upon the faith foundation already being taught at home. “She’s happy and wants to come to school seven days a week.”
Down the road, Krone said she hopes the center will expand to infant care and beyond.
“It’s very sad that the school closed, but what was left is a perfect starting point for the Early Learning Center. They already had space, they already had the playground, gym, lots and lots of supplies. It was such a blessing,” Krone said.
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