For nearly two decades, the Community Presbyterian Church of the Sand Hills Preschool has earned recommendations and kudos from the community for helping to develop South Brunswick kids about to begin their educational journey.
The school recently gained accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the nation’s leading organization of early childhood professionals. But for school staff, the Sand Hills Preschool is all about developing a family amongst the school community.
"We're all part of a community where we take care of families and families take care of each other," said Director Wendy Occhipinti. "We do a lot of community outreach and fundraising for organizations like St. Jude's and the township food pantry. We're big on having kids understand that they're part of the community. We always tell people when they come in that they'll never leave, because I've never left. Our staff has been here a long time, because people here just stay. Being part of the school is like being part of a family."
Occhipinti began at the school in 1995 when her son enrolled during the school's first year, and she has gradually moved from parent to teacher to director at the school.
"We started as a co-op that wasn't part of the church, and then the church decided to take it over and it became a mission as a community outreach to provide great early childhood education," she said. "We give a reasonable price as a non-profit and we've kind of grown to become an entity the community appreciates."
Sand Hills offers early childhood education for three- and four-year-olds, kids in pre-K and toddlers. The preschool also offers a summer program. Activities include circle time, age-appropriate subjects, music, physical and social activities, in addition to Bible lessons.
"We work in a developmentally appropriate atmosphere where the kids learn through play and hands on activities," Occhipinti said. "We work on long-term projects, study the natural sciences, and get outside collecting things through science exploration. We also work on themes depending on the interest of the kids. We're very well known in town. The kindergarten teachers in South Brunswick recommend us to get kids ready academically, socially and emotionally. All areas come out of our program to get kids fully prepared and ready to learn."
In earning NAEYC Accreditation, the school went through a self-study process that measured the program and services provided against the 10 NAEYC Early Childhood Program Standards, with more than 400 related Accreditation Criteria. Programs accredited by the NAEYC are subject to unannounced visits during the accreditation process, which lasts for five years.
More than 7,000 programs are currently accredited by the NAEYC, or approximately 8 percent of all preschools and other early childhood programs.
“The NAEYC Accreditation system raises the bar for child care centers and other early childhood programs,” said Jerlean E. Daniel, Ph.D, executive director of NAEYC. “Having earned NAEYC Accreditation is a sign that CPC of the Sand Hills Preschool is a leader in a national effort to invest in high-quality early childhood education.”
Beyond being recognized by the NAEYC, Occhipinti said the ultimate measure of success for Sand Hills is watching kids leave the program fully prepared for the road ahead of them.
"One thing kids get from us is the love of learning," she said. "They love coming here and they leave very motivated. That for us is the big success. If kids don't like to go somewhere then they won't learn much. They enjoy coming here, they make new friends and they're very prepared for kindergarten when they leave."
Sand Hills Preschool will be hosting an open house for any interested families on Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m.
Click here for more information on the Sand Hills Preschool.