After much anticipation, the Muskie Early Learning Center (MELC) opened to its first class of students on Monday, August 26th. To make the day even more special, United States Representative David Loebsack came to visit and show his support for the MELC and for all the work Muscatine Community School District (MCSD) does to help its students.
When Loebsack arrived at the MELC, he immediately felt impressed by the size of the building for a preschool center, and by the number of students it serves (238 in all). “This is one of the biggest preschool centers in the state!” he exclaimed. MCSD Superintendent Jerry Riibe, MELC Principal Jessi Freers, and school board members Toby McCarter, Randy Naber and Mary Wildermuth then welcomed Loebsack to the MELC and gave him a tour of the building.
First, Loebsack visited the sensory room. A versatile space designed for all students, including those with special needs, Loebsack saw how preschoolers can use cozy canoes, a sand table, a trampoline, and a peanut shaped balance ball to calm down and refocus throughout the day.
Next, Freers and the other tour leaders took Loebsack to see a class of four-year-old preschool students playing at various stations in their classroom. Likely the first day of school ever for many of these kids, Loebsack learned that MCSD helps young students adjust by only having half of the class come to school for the first two days so that they can begin their schooling in a small group setting.
Though it rained for much of the morning, the weather cleared up long enough for Loebsack to pay a visit to one of the MELC’s two preschooler friendly playgrounds. Complete with safety fencing and a variety of outdoor toys such as tricycles, the playground area provides a wonderful space for kids to get the wiggles out before returning to classroom activities. Freers also made a point of showing Loebsack the gross motor room, which students can use for indoor recess as well as gym style activities.
Once Loebsack had the opportunity to see several of the MELCs active play areas, he got a chance to visit Diane Calzaretta’s three-year-old preschool class. An integrated general education and special education class, Calzaretta works with three-year olds of all abilities to prepare them for their years ahead in elementary school. A longtime MCSD teacher, Calzaretta spoke with Loebsak about her and her class’s enthusiasm for their new space at the MELC. “We love our new room. We have more space and we love our new bathroom and playground,” she said.
To conclude his visit, Loebsack got sneak peaks at the MELC’s professional development conference room, and several of its cooperative spaces, including its science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) room. Once fully completed, MELC staff will get to utilize these spaces for larger group projects. In particular the STEAM room will allow classes to do group math and building projects and to cook simple recipes.
At the end of the tour, Riibe shared his excitement about the potential the MELC has. “We are very excited about what this facility can give to us. Every kid in the state of Iowa should have an experience like this.”
In turn, Loebsack praised the community for their support of the MELC and his confidence in the district to keep innovating to meet the needs of each student it serves.
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