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South School is new home to District 201's Early Childhood Education program

WESTMONT – South School reopened last school year to house District 201 administrative offices and a few temporary classrooms.

The school closed about six years ago because of declining enrollment figures, according to the Director of Student Services, Linda Klawitter. She said when the elementary school closed, its students were moved to Manning.

Now, the building at 133 S. Grant St. is home to not only the district's business offices but to an Early Childhood Education program and three newly renovated classrooms, each with a bathroom and new floors.

The programs at South School are designed for 3- to 5-year-olds with half-day and full-day classroom options, according to Klawitter. She said there are three teachers; one who teaches the First Start Program and two who teach the Early Childhood Education Program.

About 35 preschoolers are currently enrolled at South School, but Klawitter said there will be more students added throughout the year after a screening process. She said the school will have four different free screening sessions, in September, October, February and April, where families in the district can see where their kids are developmentally.

Klawitter said the full-day room is usually for students who might need to focus on intense skill preparation for kindergarten. She said the school will also offer walk-in speech and occupational therapy for students from any school in Westmont.

"It's a wonderful place for the kids to be," Klawitter said. "They have an opportunity to spend days in a setting that provides a lot of enrichment. What we're really doing is focusing on building a strong foundation because we want to see them have success in school."

Before District 201 moved the program to South School, preschool was held at Manning Elementary.

Having three preschool classrooms under one roof, in a separate building, will be beneficial to the teachers and the students, according to Klawitter.

"It allows the teachers to be together and focus on professional collaboration and structural design," Klawitter said. "It also allows the children to be able to interact together and to work with children who are their age but maybe not their classmates."

Moving the program to South School also allows the district to educate more students at both schools, according to District 201 School Board President Marie Charlton.

"Re-positioning that building freed up space so we can have more classrooms at Manning," Charlton said. "But more importantly, there are some students we couldn't accommodate before but now we have the space and more students are back."

Klawitter said the move was designed to be a win-win situation for both schools.

"We wanted an opportunity to expand the preschool but we needed space," Klawitter said. "Manning was facing overcrowding, so they were looking for additional space, too."

Starting this program with younger students in District 201 will teach them to be eager learners in the future, according to Charlton.

"The earlier you educate students, the better foundation they'll have as they move on," Charlton said. "As they go through their school years, it will be a much easier transition socially and academically."

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