By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
NORRISTOWN – When 2-year-old Kyson Godoy was asked what he’s learned at his school, the St. Francis Early Learning Center, he replied in song – the alphabet song. He then counted past 10 and, to the best of his ability, recited the days of the week.
Cardinal Justin Rigali blessed the new center of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Norristown Tuesday, Jan. 27, in conjunction with Catholic Schools Week. The center is located behind the church and adjacent to the parish school in a newly renovated building which, for the past 40 years, served as an annex to the school.
“I’m thrilled,” said Father Vincent F. Welsh, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi. “We see this as a way of expanding our Catholic education and formation.”
Open from 6:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. year-round, the state-licensed facility cares for children between the ages of 6 weeks and 4 years old. Flexible scheduling allows parents to choose full-time or part-time care plans. Breakfast and lunch are provided. The center opened last December.
Gleeful is how 8-month-old David Greco Jr. returns home from his day at St. Francis.
Knowing their son is adjusting nicely to his routine outside their home gives his parents, David Sr. and Theresa Greco, peace of mind. “I pick him up in the evening and he is smiling and happy,” Theresa said.
David Jr. particularly enjoys the crawling area: “He’s actually learned to pull himself up,” his mother said.
In addition to what he’s learning at home, David Jr.’s parents predict the center will help their son “grow and develop in the Catholic faith,” Theresa said.
And the center’s location is convenient for the Grecos, as daughter Audrey is a third grader at St. Francis of Assisi School.
As for the aesthetics of the learning center, “it’s beautiful,” Theresa said. “They did a wonderful job in the renovation of the building.”
Built in 1968 to meet the needs of an escalating parish school enrollment, the one-floor building housed eight classrooms as an annex to the school until recent years, when just four of the classrooms were utilized for pupils in pre-kindergarten through second grade.
Because of the need in the community for a Catholic early learning center, the decision was made to utilize the available space in the annex for that purpose. The pre-kindergarten through second grades were relocated to the main school building.
The approximate $350,000 it cost the parish to renovate the annex into the learning center was made possible primarily through a bequest of a late parishioner, according to the pastor.
At the end of the day, Father Welsh hopes the youngsters entrusted to the center’s care take home the knowledge “that God loves them, that God created the world and holds it all together.”
The pastor also hopes they take to heart that “God’s love for them is reflected in the love of their parents and their caregivers and our community – especially our parish community.”
The youngsters are tended in a “loving and nurturing environment” where safety and education are top priorities, said Erica Gonzalez, the center’s director.
They enjoy age-appropriate toys and activities in the indoor and outdoor play areas. Children also dabble in arts and crafts, put together puzzles, read books and immerse themselves in educational games on the computer.
While the babies at the center are crawling and walking, their older peers are honing fine and gross motor skills.
During structured learning time – the center offers a bilingual education in English and Spanish – children learn the alphabet, numbers and colors, and the importance of name recognition, in particular, their name and address.
There are currently 19 children on the learning center’s roster. “We’re eager to enroll more children,” Gonzalez said.
For more information, call (610) 757-1523 or visit the website www.sfacatholic.org.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or cchicoin@adphila.