Alabaster UMC prepares the next generation

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Nearly every day, the halls of Alabaster First United Methodist Church’s preschool are filled with the sounds of student-performed musical acts, the giggles of kids performing science experiments and the quiet patience of teachers guiding children to read their first book.

Six full-time instructors and one floating teacher spend their days at the church’s preschool preparing children aged 6 weeks to 5 years to enter kindergarten in the county’s public schools.

“Each year, we try to have the kids totally ready to go onto kindergarten,” said Alabaster First United Methodist Church Director of Preschool Jeannie Walls. “They learn how to take care of themselves, and when they leave here they are totally ready for the next level.”

Everything at the school is done on a kid-friendly level, and is aimed at developing every aspect of the child’s life, Walls said.

Because the preschool teachers and administrators work closely with the students every day, some parents said they would not consider sending their children anywhere else.

“I was very skeptical of daycare, so I was careful about which one I chose,” said Debbie Horton, whose child attends the preschool. “But I’m telling you what, we hit a jackpot when we chose this one.

“It’s like there is an element of love there that you can’t find anywhere else,” Horton added. “They really do educate the whole child.”

The preschool staff teaches the children basic sign language and Spanish-speaking skills, and regularly holds special events designed to expose the children to new environments.

“We recently did a lesson on the rainforest, and we transformed the school into a rainforest those days,” Walls said. “We try to find things they haven’t been exposed to.

“We do music lessons two times a week, and we have art classes.”

The students recently created Christmas ornaments, and sold them to school parents and visitors.

The students then used the money they raised to purchase cereal to donate to Alabaster-based Manna Ministries, which provides free food to those in need every weekend.

“After they sold the ornaments, we took them to Walmart to buy cereal to donate to Manna Ministries,” Walls said. “Every year, we focus on an organization that needs help.”

Many of the school’s older students also take an active role in educating the younger students, Walls said.

“Everyone knows everyone at the school. The kids are comfortable in whatever classroom they are in,” she said. “Our older kids will actually help the younger ones when they can.”

Because the children are ready to learn when they leave, the school regularly receives letters from the county’s public schools, Walls said.

“We get letters each year from teachers who thank us for preparing the children for kindergarten,” she said. “We are always so proud of the students. It’s such a joy to know they are doing well when they leave here.”