Flagstaff’s San Francisco de Asis Catholic School bolsters preschool program

Flagstaff, AZ | Submitted by Lisa Barquin

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In Flagstaff, the oldest continually run Catholic school in the state now boasts an award-winning preschool. While the school itself includes classes up to grade eight, the preschool is preparing local three- and four-year-olds for their foray into kindergarten.

With two preschool classrooms for 39 students, San Francisco de Asis Catholic School (SFdA) was recently honored with a five-star rating through Arizona’s First Things First Quality First program. The rating is the highest available and a first for the First Things First Coconino region.

SFdA has been working with Quality First, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of early learning across Arizona, for more than five years. By providing ongoing training to teachers, the group helps to create environments that nurture the emotional, social and academic development of every child. Because there are currently only 24 percent of Arizona’s 3- and 4-year olds enrolled in a quality early learning setting, many children are not well-prepared for kindergarten. SFdA and Quality First are working toward the Arizona Education Progress Meter’s goal to raise that to 45 percent.

At SFdA, teachers fully appreciate the importance of these early years on future development. Preschool sets the stage for kindergarten, and the skills that youth acquire in preschool include everything from following directions to being able to focus on a task, all while having fun and growing their academic skills.

Working with a dedicated Quality First coach, the SFdA team received ongoing training that covered everything from early learning standards to health and safety. For instance, the instructors found that by speaking more during the class day, students were being exposed to more words and building their vocabularies.

The coach also made a comprehensive review of the classroom to ensure that it was age-appropriate and stocked with materials that would stimulate social-emotional and academic learning. They covered a variety of subjects including the number and type of books in the classroom, availability of a quiet area, dramatic play items, sand and water, and correctly sized tables and chairs.

Once the resources portion had been covered, Quality First helped to evaluate communication with students, storytelling and introduction of new words. They also covered the school’s tools for evaluation, including documentation and paperwork, communication with families, staff education and more. Based on the outcome of these in-depth checkpoints, the school was awarded a coveted five-star rating, which show SFdA dedication to the well-being of their students.

During this five-year transformation, SFdA made a wide variety of improvements, and the students are reaping the benefits. Neighboring kindergarten teachers can readily identify which students were part of the program due to their advanced grasp of concepts and behavioral strengths. And it’s clear to observers that students are both learning and enjoying themselves. SFdA, which uses Teaching Strategies Gold as an assessment program, shows continued growth from the beginning of preschool classroom to end of pre-kindergarten over the nine objectives for development and learning:  Social/Emotional, Physical, Language, Cognitive, Literacy, Mathematics, Science/Technology, Social Studies and the Arts.

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