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Shrine plans $1.8M early childhood center for parish

The Detroit News

Royal Oak — Shrine Catholic Schools will open a new $1.8 million Early Childhood Development Center in fall 2017 to expand its grade school program and enroll more students.

The facility, which will become part of the grade-school campus at 1621 Linwood, will house six classrooms for children ages 3-5. Educational options include full-day, half-day and junior kindergarten classes, as well as aftercare options.

Currently, the Shrine has only 3-year-old preschool, which meets two days a week in the morning, and 4-year-old preschool, which meets three days a week in the afternoon. It will expand from two to six classrooms and a lobby area, according to Shrine admissions director Meg Armstrong. Each classroom will be 28-feet-by-28-feet.

“Shrine has always had a very strong preschool program, but we just didn’t have the space to accommodate all families’ needs,” said Leigh Davidson, Shrine’s early childhood director. “With this new center, we can offer more programs that are tailored to what our students need to get ready for kindergarten and grade school.”

The new building will allow Shrine to accommodate an additional 50 students. Shrine’s current grade school enrollment is just under 500 students.

Armstrong said money for the project will come from their master plan, “which the parish has been working on for a long time.”

School officials held a groundbreaking ceremony at the campus Nov. 29.

“For many years, Shrine’s preschool has been a popular school option for part-time 3- and 4-year preschool,” said Jennifer Bero, assistant principal. “But our program had space constraints. We just couldn’t accept as many students as we’d like. We couldn’t offer as many programs as we’d like.”

The Early Childhood Development Center will focus on providing a positive foundation for learning by offering a play-based development program that “encourages the cognitive, spiritual, social/emotional, and physical development” of each child, officials said.

“Our curriculum includes both academic and interactive activities with a focus on language, fine arts, cognitive and physical skills,” said Kathleen Fotiu, principal.

Parents have been asking for full-day preschool and aftercare options, Bero said.

“Our new facility will allow us to meet the needs of the community much more efficiently,” she said. “We will also have a dedicated after-care option for families that need a little bit of extra care time.”

Three of Meghan Swonder’s four children attend Shrine schools, and she is “so thrilled” about the new center.

“I have two kids who will be enrolled in the junior kindergarten classes,” said Swonder of Troy. “Caroline is 4 and Mitchell is 2, but he will eventually enroll, too.”

Armstrong explained there will be two phases to the project.

“Phase one is the building part of it, and it will begin immediately following the end of the school year in June 2017,” she said. “Phase two will be connecting the new center to the existing grade school in June 2018.”

She explained the configuration.

“Right now, the buildings are separate,” she said. “The entrance to the grade school is adjacent to the preschool, but it is not connected. So while preschoolers can visit the computer lab, science lab and gym in the elementary school, it requires more work.”

Armstrong also said another advantage to the buildings being connected will be collaboration between grades and classrooms.

“While the students in the preschool already have the opportunity to visit the grade school building, the connection will allow the collaboration to happen more regularly without having to worry about weather,” she said.

Swonder said the larger space and ability to use the grade school’s library and gym are pluses.

“They can use the gym now, but it’s a short walk, and if it’s cold outside, they can only use the gym weather permitting,” she said.

Shrine is a private Catholic school. Early childhood tuition for the 2016-17 school year will range from $1,200 to $6,000, depending on the child’s age and which programs they’re enrolled in.

Shrine Catholic Schools are the parish schools of the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak. Founded in 1934, the schools provide a co-educational classes for students in pre-K through 12th grade. The Shrine Catholic High School and Academy, which houses grades 7-12, is located at Woodward and 13 Mile.

The National Shrine of the Little Flower, named a minor Basilica in 2015 by Pope Francis, was founded in 1926 and serves a parish of approximately 4,200 families throughout the Metro-Detroit area.

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