Joyce Preschool celebrates its 40th anniversary

Kids learn lifelong literacy skills at the dual immersion school

Kids sit in a circle singing along to a Spanish music tape one of the youngsters brought in for show-and-tell. The crooning sounds fluent, yet only half the children are native Spanish-speakers. For the others, English is their first language.

This is typical for kids attending Joyce Preschool, a Spanish-English immersion program located in the basement of Joyce United Methodist Church, 3041 Fremont Ave. S.

&#8220Kids don't care about the differences. When you walk in here, they're playing with each other, despite cultural differences,” said Executive Director Laura Johansson. &#8220They build relationships.”

That's one of the successes Joyce will celebrate at its 40th anniversary March 11 at the Zuhrah Shrine building, 2540 Park Ave. S. As part of the event, the school will honor 10 &#8220bridge-builders,” groups and individuals unaffiliated with the school who break down cultural barriers in the community.

Festivities also will mark Joyce's expansion. The preschool offers a two-year program for 3- to 5-year-olds. There's also a parent-child class for 2-year-olds and Spanish immersion summer camps for 4- to 7-year-olds. The school recently added a second set of two-day classes and next year it'll introduce another three-day class. All told, Joyce's student capacity will increase from 40 to 150 kids.

The school also offers additional resources and outreach to Latino families regarding Early Childhood Family Education, public libraries, school choice, health care, preschool screening and more. Such groups as Padres de Familia also meet regularly to address issues. The school also offers an extension of the school day in the form of an at-home service called Club Leopoldo, a family literacy program.

Dual immersion programs

The preschool has offered dual immersion since 1994 when a former teacher recommended that the traditional program founded in 1966 be reworked to accommodate the area's growing Latino population.

There are 25 districts statewide with dual immersion programs, but none features Joyce's unique programs - split evenly between Spanish and English native speakers in both students and staff.

About half the students are on scholarship, continuing the school's priority to provide for low-income families. And many of the preschoolers who pass through Joyce's doors proceed to Windom Dual Spanish Immersion or Emerson Elementary School in Minneapolis that feature similar programs.

That program provides a balance between language, race, culture and socioeconomic groups, especially vital in a state wherein fewer than half of Latino kids graduate from high school, according to statistics from the Minnesota Department of Education, Johansson said.

&#8220Besides the wonderful staff, it's heartening to see the kids learning about other cultures and being exposed to a wider definition of what ‘normal' is,” said parent Tom Flock Johnson. &#8220In my mind, the language is secondary to the multicultural aspect of the school. And not just for my kids, for me as well.”

During the two- and three-day weekly classes, teachers and preschoolers speak either English or Spanish for a full day, alternating daily. Lessons are taught through games, songs and talk during &#8220circle time,” in which kids are seated together on the classroom floor.

The activities are meant to build confidence and prepare kids for elementary school, said teacher Carol Will.

&#8220It really kind of tuned my son's ear into hearing Spanish, not hearing a language that translates,” said parent Johannah Bomster, whose son attended Joyce for a year before attending Windom Dual Spanish Immersion, 5821 Wentworth Ave. S. &#8220He is thriving. I think the early exposure to dual immersion opened his ears to truly think in Spanish, not translate in his mind. You are speaking, listening and thinking in Spanish.”

For more information about Joyce Preschool, go to www.joycepreschool.org.