New pre-K nature program coming to SAP Elementary School

By Sarah CR Clark

St. Paul Public Schools is launching a new pre-kindergarten program based out of St. Anthony Park Elementary School starting in September.

Called “Nature Discovery Pre-K,” the program will provide three hours (Monday-Friday) per week of nature-based learning with licensed teachers to students who are 4 years old by Sept. 1. Extended day and after-school care options provided by SPPS’s Discovery Club will be available.

“Nature Discovery Pre-K” will follow the SPPS calendar and cost between $489 and $975 monthly with the extended day and afterschool care options. Financial assistance may be available to qualifying families for the half-day Pre-K class only, according to the program’s website.

Anthony Walker, SPPS director of community education said, “We will also have dedicated outdoor learning space on the SAP Elementary campus and look forward to collaborating with Langford Park to use the green spaces available there.”

 “Our goal is for students to spend approximately 50-75% of their instructional time outdoors.” Walker said. He noted this will vary by season and weather conditions.

Preschool programs that embrace nature and the outdoors aren’t new to the St. Anthony Park neighborhood. SAP is already home to two successful, long running community preschools whose students spend a significant time outdoors in neighborhood parks and green spaces: St. Anthony Park Co-op Preschool, 2129 Commonwealth Ave., and St. Anthony Park Community Nursery School, 2200 Hillside Ave.

The co-op preschool reported about a third of their school time is outdoors; more than half — sometimes whole days — occur outside for students at the community nursery school.

Community nursery school director Molly Breen, said, “We see the natural world as an extension of our classroom spaces.”

Asked for her thoughts about the SPPS Nature Discover Pre-K program, Breen said, “It was a surprise at first, of course. I remember when the elementary school was remodeled, there was a clear statement that there would never be space for a pre-K program in the building. But that was before the pandemic and its cascading effects — a lot has changed.”

She continued, “I am doing my best to approach this new program with a spirit of collaboration, not competition, in the same way that we might welcome a new neighbor! I have met with (SAP Elementary Principal) Dr. (Karen) Duke and Discovery Club’s Gabe Sandvik to talk about opportunities to overlap in intentional ways. I think we will figure it out as we go along in the year ahead.”

Kerrin Flanagan, co-director and teacher at the co-op preschool said, “We are so happy to have even more options for families of young children in our neighborhood! No program is perfect for all families, so it is great to have another option for community members.”

Asked why SPPS chose St. Anthony Park as home for the Nature Discovery Pre-K, Walker said, “Because of its location, which is home to a wonderful open green space and an existing school forest. The school has classroom space for the program and creates a potential growth opportunity to connect pre-k students to the school.”

At the time of publication, all three programs had spots open for fall registration. See these websites for more information:
sapnurseryschool.com, sapcns.org, sapkidscare.com, and spps.org/natureprek. 

Sarah CR Clark lives in St. Anthony Park and is a regular freelance contributor to the Bugle.

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