On a Tuesday in August, a group of kindergarten students from the school on the Geist Christian Church campus in Mud Creek are gathered in the gymnasium around five interlocking hoops lying on the floor. The class competes in a kid-friendly Olympics. There is a fake foam torch at one end of the room and foam dumbbells at the other. Soon the 5-year-olds will test their strength.
Events like the mock Olympics for small Christian preschools and preschools were under threat at the start of the school year due to the financial cost of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Mud Creek school received a grant through the church to continue paying staff.
“Not all preschools are church-based, but many are,” said Valerie Zeigler, director of the Mud Creek campus. “It’s difficult because they are private and based around registered ministries. Some are non-profit, some are church related, some just rent the building. It’s definitely a different beast than the (Indiana Department of Education).
According to Mud Creek Assistant Manager Paula Mager, the kindergartens of Kids at Geist in Geist Community and Wee Care at Fall Creek Baptist churches closed during COVID-19, while Promise Church, among others, had to cut staff.
“Our school staff were able to continue teaching, either in person or when we had to temporarily close our doors (in the spring of 2020) thanks to Zoom lessons,” Mager said. “The teachers were able to maintain that relationship with the students, so the students knew their teachers and they knew who the Geist Christian was.”
The school at Geist Christian Church is made up of two different campuses: Mud Creek, 8550 Mud Creek Rd. in Indianapolis, and one at 12756 Promise Rd. in Fishermen. The Mud Creek campus is entering its 32nd year of operation this year. The school accepts students from 18 months through kindergarten and has an average of about 200 students each year. Classroom student-teacher ratios are 11-1 for kindergarten. A kindergarten day lasts from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., while other age groups are from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
The Mud Creek campus, just across the Marion County line from Fishers, serves families from several communities, including Fishers, Lawrence, and McCordsville.
Emily Bryan recently moved to the Nora area of Indianapolis after living in Fishers for five years.
“I’m driving across town to get my kid to school this year,” Bryan said.
Bryan has shipped two daughters at Geist Christian School, and one is currently enrolled.
“I love the people at this school“, said Bryan. “THey, treat my kids like they’re your own kids, and they’re like family to me.e. JHey, know my name and kiss my kids. My kids love going to school there and I know my kids are loved when they’re there, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Staff quality spoke to Fishers resident Lisa Schoenrock, who sent four children to Mud Creek School. At any time in the past 10 years, she has had at least one child enrolled in school.
“They’re so caring and loving, and from the minute I walk in there, you get those warm fuzzes of ‘This is exactly where I want my kid to be,'” Schoenrock said. “All the staff are so happy. IIt starts at the top with Valérie and Paula and all the teachers. There’s just very little turnover there. They all go above and beyond to teach children.
Although nearly all staff are part-time, staff stability has helped the school stay open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have continuity of staff. In a daycare program, staff may change three times during a 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. program,” Mager said. “Here, they are with the same two people from their arrival until they are taken care of. The commitment of our staff is what made this possible.
A second major support system is the church itself.
“We pulled some of our classes over the past year due to reduced student numbers, but our goal has always been to stay open,” Zeigler said. “We had great support from the church, which was able to get the message across (from our situation to the community of the faithful). IIt’s a really strong community.
The third support system was families who continued to send their children during the school year, while the school had to enforce mitigation efforts such as masking young students and teachers.
“It broke my heart that kids and teachers had to mask up,” Bryan said. “The reason why I put them in this school is largely because the teachers are so attentive to your children, and they smile and hug, and it was just the first time they were told that they couldn’t do that. It just broke my heart. That’s why they were so special. They really go above and beyond. I was grateful that we were able to stay in school, but it didn’t was more the same. The teachers hated it and I know the staff hated it. They tried so hard to keep the kids in school, but it changed the mood that year.
But now, masks are optional on the Geist Christian Church Mud Creek campus.
School attendance between COVID-19
In a typical school year, approximately 225 students attend the Mud Creek School campus. The school lost more … than a quarter of its average attendance during the 2020-21 school year. About 150 people attended that year. But the numbers are going up for kindergarten.
To build confidence in the school and classrooms, the campus has resumed some summer camps, which were closed in summer 2020.
“You have to come with confidence,” said Valerie Zeigler, director of the Mud Creek campus.