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Preschool with a twist

Youngsters dabble in the arts at Woodlawn Arts Academy

STERLING – Eyes wide with anticipation, playful preschoolers gaze upon the big bowl of orange gelatin on their tiny table.

It wiggles as much as they do.

The young culinary artists added marshmallows, mandarin oranges, and whipped cream, and then swallowed their masterpieces Oct. 29 at the Sauk Valley’s new arts-based preschool.

Woodlawn Preschool Academy of the Arts is no ordinary preschool. Sessions also include theater, dance, visual arts, and music to fuel learning and development.

Under the leadership of 33-year-old Becky Rich of Sterling, program director, different specialists from Woodlawn Arts Academy visit classrooms on a rotating basis to share their talents.

“It’s something that, unfortunately, so many of our schools can’t afford – a lot of arts programming – these days,” Rich said. “It’s the first thing to get cut. But it is found that it is one of the best realistic ways of learning, and it gets their creative side going.”

The lead instructor agrees. Petra Paufve, a 2002 graduate of Sterling High School, said arts promote literacy and fine motor skills.

“It’s not just about learning the arts; it’s about all the different skills they can pick up through that,” the 29-year-old Sterling woman said. “Those things encompass all the different areas of learning, physical, language, cognitive – all of that.”

Culinary arts – led by Janel Stahr of Rock Falls – is a favorite subject for many students, Paufve said.

Wearing his Batman T-shirt and a big smile, 5-year-old Denver seemed to back up that claim. While mixing ingredients into his gelatin, he exclaimed: “It smells like orange suckers. What flavor do you have in this? This rocks!”

Denver and his friends named the color of the gelatin and counted marshmallows as they dropped them into the mixture.

“This is gonna be good,” 4-year-old Averielle chimed in.

The academy meets Common Core State Standards for learning. Math, science and other subjects are covered, as well.

Fourteen students, ages 3 to 5, are enrolled. They attend classes from 8:15 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. Some come every day, and others attend Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday and Thursday.

Cost varies according to the number of days a student attends.

School started in August – part of an effort to provide more daytime programs at Woodlawn’s renovated facility, Rich said.

“Our area has wonderful opportunities for education and preschool,” she said. “We wanted to just add another option for the community.”

Trained staff members developed their own curriculum and obtained licensing by the Department of Children and Family Services.

Darla Rumbolz, 33, of Sterling, enrolled her 5-year-old son, Jonas. Lately, he has been singing, drawing, and raving about his cooking class.

“Jonas seems to be thriving on it,” she said. “… It’s brought out a whole other side of him that I didn’t know existed.”

Woodlawn welcomes parents, grandparents and siblings to a classroom activity every week and an evening performance and open house every 8 weeks.

“Especially with preschool, that connection between home and school is such an important concept,” Rich said. “The families that know what we are doing at school, and can promote that at home, find a lot more success with their child’s education.”

At pickup time, moms and dads see many sad eyes and frowns. This is not because they hate school, but because they hate leaving school. Children tell parents they want to stay, Paufve said.

“They want to learn, and it makes my job that much more rewarding,” she said. “... They love it, and I love being a part of it, too. It’s awesome. I’m so grateful I’ve been given this opportunity.”

Academy info

Registration is open for the spring 2014 semester. Each semester is 16 weeks.

If enrollment is high, afternoon sessions will be added.

Staff bios, enrollment fees, schedules, and school policies are posted on Woodlawn's website. Scholarships and payment plans are available.

For more information, go to, find “Woodlawn Preschool Academy of the Arts” on Facebook, or call 815-626-4278.

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