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Piety starts at preschool

Little Shepherd’s Preschool in Newhall has nondenominational focus on religion and good moral values

Posted: March 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Owen Pontius, 3, left, and Connor Brill, 4, play with yard equipment. The preschool relies solely on word of mouth from the parents.

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Little Shepherd’s Preschool, nestled on a grassy, tree-lined campus in Newhall, is one of Santa Clarita’s best kept secrets.

This preschool, which was started in 1969, began as a church-related nursery school on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Newhall. Its goal was simple: offer a loving and safe environment for children.

Caring environment
Esther Kloth, the preschool’s director, attributes the success of Little Shepherd’s to the “caring teachers.”

“The teachers really go the extra mile for families who are struggling with difficulties,” Kloth said.

Kloth also credits the preschool’s strong focus on social skills and helping the children to learn to “consider others” as part of the reason parents continue to send their children there.

“We really try to promote a peaceful environment,” she said.

The staff is made up of five teachers, an aide and Kloth. Their experience ranges from two years, 19 years, all the way through to Kloth’s own 33 years.

Although the school is located on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church, the school espouses a nondenominational stance toward religion and a focus on good moral values.

Instead of focusing on a specific doctrine, it highlights a “God made us and God loves us” point of view, Kloth said.

The preschool strives to emphasis a developmental approach to teaching, not academics, in preparation for kindergarten. Teachers focus on lessons about caring for others and following directions.

Little Shepherd’s also incorporates a music program into its curriculum. Every two weeks, the children sing songs focused on God’s love and play musical instruments.

The children also visit the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church once a month in the sanctuary, where he will read Bible stories or sing songs with them. The children are not being exposed to a specific doctrine, just a caring atmosphere focusing on God’s love, Kloth said.

The right fit
Karen Stevens put all five of her children through Little Shepherd’s Preschool. In 1999, she initially tried enrolling her oldest daughter, Sarah, into other preschools, but removed her each time.

“They were day care-oriented instead of like a nursery school,” Stevens said.

After finding Little Shepherd’s, Stevens knew it was the right fit. Not only did they have a small student-to-teacher ratio, but she felt the teachers really understood the children and were very loving.

Even though the Stevens family is Catholic, she felt Little Shepherd’s “fit them perfectly.”

“It is a God-oriented education and a God-centered environment,” she said. “They treat the kids kindly, and it is a place for them to express themselves.”

She believes in Little Shepherd’s so much that after all of her children graduated from the preschool, she volunteered as a board member to continue to stay involved with the preschool.

“Little Shepherd’s enabled my kids to have the confidence to try new things and not be afraid,” Stevens said. “They really nurtured my kids.”

Santa Clarita Valley’s ‘little’ secret
The preschool does not advertise in any way. It relies solely on word of mouth from the parents, which is why many parents don’t know the preschool is even there.

Kloth recalls how parents who attended Little Shepherd’s years ago are coming back and enrolling their own children there.

“They still talk about the school and how they felt so safe when they came here,” Kloth said.

Little Shepherd’s is a half-day school and offers extended care until 3:00 p.m. Parents can choose from a two-, three- and five-day program. Class sizes are limited to 12 or eight children, depending on the age group.

“We try to give the children a good idea of self-worth,” Kloth said. “They are an important part of the community, and we want them to know we are available for them.”



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