When Sharon Wallenborn was hired to take the reins of Circle of Friends Preschool in 1995, she didn’t know that the school, the families and each of the children would become part of the fabric of her heart.
After Columbia Presbyterian Church purchased the school from the previous owners, Wallenborn put her creativity and love into each part of the school to make it what it is today. Now, entering its 24th year as an early childhood education center, the preschool has more than 170 students, 14 staff members and 20 different class time options.
Circle of Friends is a program that’s supported by Columbia Presbyterian Church and utilizes the church’s facilities. There is a full-size gym for gross motor play during the cold and rainy season, an outdoor play area, multiple classrooms, and two years ago, the school was able to build a shed that houses emergency preparedness items. Wallenborn said that her staff is part of what makes the school special. She and Assistant Director Debbie Johnson have worked together for the last 22 years and together, they are a well-oiled machine that complement each other.
The school has very little turnover and together, the staff has educated hundreds of children over the decades.
“We are a close-knit group that care deeply not only for one and other, but also for each little one and their families that walk through our doors,” Wallenborn said.
“I am blessed to have many roles at Circle of Friends,” Johnson said. “I love getting to know each child and their families. The staff is an amazing group of women, who are such a support for each other. This is such a wonderful working team environment.”
Wallenborn said that the enrichment programs are something else that makes Circle of Friends stand out.
“Parents have the opportunity to enroll their children in additional specialty classes,” Wallenborn said. “Small-business owners come to our building various days of the week to offer additional activities for the children so they don’t have to leave the building. Those options include an introduction to dance, Spanish for preschoolers and a fitness program.”
One day a week, the school focuses on teaching students about science and in January, the school rolls out “rotating units,” which are theme-based units that rotate amongst the classrooms over an eight-week period.
“Our goal has always been to offer a well-rounded early childhood experience to each little one,” Wallenborn said. “Each day encompasses exposure to all aspects of early learning and development.”
The school and the staff pride itself on continually learning and growing. Ongoing staff training each year is required and has proven to be beneficial when it comes to implementing new ideas and learning tactics. Wallenborn said that the team is always striving to evolve and serve better and with that, the team works alongside the community to give back. Each year, the school does a “needs drive” to give back to the community and help teach children the joy of giving. During this time, they collect items that are donated to local schools, homeless shelters and more.
Most of all, Circle of Friends has worked to cultivate a community of love and friendship and it’s something that has not only touched Wallenborn and her staff deeply, but the families that walk through the doors, too.
“This place is deeply imbedded in my heart,” she said.