Program calls it quits after nine years
By Scott Bellile
Preschool graduation can be tough on the children who leave behind their routine playtime and classroom buddies.
But it will also be hard on two preschool teachers who won’t return to teaching a program this fall.
Zion Lutheran Church in Readfield graduated its final preschool class on Friday, May 27, bringing an end to the careers of New London residents Polly Fitzgerald and Kris Hidde.
“This is going to be hard to leave. We’re trying not to think about it,” Hidde said. She and Fitzgerald taught at Zion together since forming its preschool program in 2007 and for seven years before that in New London.
Zion’s preschool primarily drew kids from New London, Dale, Hortonville and Fremont. It shut its doors amid declining enrollment—private preschools are losing students to 4-year-old kindergarten programs at public schools.
Zion changed gears to 3-year-old kindergarten to better compete with public school 4K, but the numbers still weren’t there. The program ended its run with 13 kids enrolled three half-days per week. It once peaked at about 40 kids across three full days and two half days per week. Ending it will allow Fitzgerald and Hidde to focus on their other part-time jobs.
The graduating class is Zion’s smallest group, Fitzgerald said, but the “loudest” according to Hidde.
Fitzgerald said neither woman ever considered teaching preschool a “job.” In their eyes, Zion had the perfect program: plenty of green space, parents who always chaperoned field trips, and a knack for teaching kids manners that pleased their grade school teachers.
As 10 children pedaled plastic trikes and scaled a jungle gym May 25, the teachers recalled memories. They kept kids busy with Christmas programs, trips to Cuff Farms and Monkey Joe’s, pajama days and pool party days inside the classroom. They thanked D.J. and Joe Maus for letting the kids visit Little Caesars Pizza in Waupaca and take over the kitchen each year.
Another recollection Hidde shared was when a tornado took away one of Zion’s outdoor play sets in 2013.
“It was gone. It just disappeared,” Hidde said. “The year following it, people found pieces of it miles and miles away.”
Students expressed mixed feelings about graduation. Some were excited for the next chapter while others were on the verge of tears. One said she didn’t want to make new friends.
Student Brynn Amaral said she’s “happy because I’m really happy to spend time with my family” this summer.
Caeleb Loberg said he’s excited to swim and eat ice cream this summer. But he said he’s scared to continue on to Emmanuel Lutheran in New London next fall because that’s where he got his shots.
Zion’s graduating class is Laney Fannin, Alyvia Wilkum, Lainey Burrow, Sadie Schuelke, Alex Reger, Mycah McNamee, Brinley Bush, Ella Pari, Brennan Pari, Brynn Amaral, Alyssa Gore, Caeleb Loberg, Carsyn VanCuyk.
“The main things we teach these 3- and 4-year-olds is we’re all friends and we all have fun,” Fitzgerald said.
Zion Lutheran recommends parents looking for a preschool program take their students to Emmanuel Lutheran’s preschool next fall.