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New preschool center being added at Ogema Elementary is pride of Waubun School District

The $1.6 million preschool addition should be finished in the spring and ready for the 2014-2015 school year. Paula Quam/DL NEWSPAPERS

The smallest learners within the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth School District will soon have a snazzy new learning facility just for them.

An addition is being built onto Ogema Elementary School that will by next year be home to an expanded pre-school program.

The addition, which broke ground in August, will have three preschool rooms, as well as a conference room and an indoor play area.

“The play area is really the unique, cool piece of this, I think,” said Ogema Principal Trisha Mariotti. “It’ll have skylights, too, so we’ll be able to pull in some natural light in the middle of the building.” Mariotti also says the equipment and everything within the classrooms will be built specifically for pre-school children.

The $1.6 million addition is being funded by a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services.

When the early childhood education grant was up for grabs last year, school leaders knew they could put it to good use.  That’s because the demand for pre-school services has continued to grow over the past years, as has the waiting list for services in Ogema.

There are currently 30 preschool students enrolled in the program (with 11 on a waiting list), but because there’s only one classroom and one teacher, they are split up and limited to two days a week.

Having more classrooms means the children stuck on a waiting list will no longer have to wait for early childhood education, but also means they will all have the option of going all day, every day.

Superintendent of the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth School District Brandon Lunak says although there is also a Head Start in White Earth, the geographical space the district covers is large and full of three and four-year-olds.

“So our goal is to have the same amount of pre-school sections than we have kindergarten sections,” said Lunak, who says if their kindergarteners have already been there for a year or two, the transition is easier and the students enter totally prepared.

The addition, which is currently getting its steel and walls put up, is located on the south side of the elementary school where a grassy atrium once stood unused.

The classrooms, which will be complete with technology like Smart Boards, will only be for pre-school students.

“Preschool can be a tough time for kids because they’re having to leave mom and dad, but hopefully this will help get them really excited to come to school … to have a place designed just for them.”

Lunak says the district anticipates likely having to hire another preschool teacher for next fall, which they believe is a good problem to have as more and more children can receive a jump start to their educational careers.

“I think it’s going to be great for getting that routine down,” said Mariotti. “So instead of taking that ton of time in kindergarten where they’re just getting used to being in school, they’ll have that knowledge down already at 5 years old.”

Construction is expected to be completed sometime this spring.

“We really think it’s going to be a first-class facility when it’s all done,” said Lunak with a smile, “We’re hoping, that in terms of our preschool addition, to sort of be the envy of neighboring school districts.”

Paula Quam

Paula Quam is the editor for Forum Communications Co. newspapers in Detroit Lakes, Perham and Wadena, all in Minnesota.

(218) 844-1466