After three years of conversations, planning and visiting other urban school locations in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Saint James School — A Lancaster Mennonite School Early Learning Center — was to open its doors to its first pupils in August, 2017. However, anticipated funds from the PreK Counts program were not approved by the PA Legislature.
If funding comes through, the school plans to enroll PreK students in the full-day program (8:15 a.m. – 2:15 p.m.). Tuition will be $6,963, which is lower than most day care providers that do not offer the educational benefits of a structured PreK program.
The innovative partnership brings together two of the oldest faith traditions in the county. The venture grew out of LM’s desire to establish an urban Lancaster site and Saint James Episcopal Church’s decision to return to its historic roots in education.
Saint James School is located in the Parish House of Saint James Episcopal Church, one of downtown Lancaster’s finest historic buildings, across from City Hall and next to the Lancaster Public Library. The Saint James facilities offer ample age-appropriate space for classrooms, indoor and outdoor play, special programs and more.
Regular tuition for the full-day, five-day program is $6,963 for the school year. Families who cannot afford the tuition may be eligible for a full tuition grant through the commonwealth’s Pre-K Counts program. The school is seeking a mix of Pre-K Counts students and full-pay students.
Administrative leadership is provided by Eloy Rodriguez, who serves as principal of LM’s New Danville Campus just south of Lancaster. Saint James teachers will be directly responsible to Mr. Rodriguez, who in turn is supported by LM school system staff. Facilities maintenance and safety services are provided by St. James Episcopal Church.
Admission to Saint James School is through the LM system admissions office, and admissions inquiries can be directed to Christy Horst, director of admissions at (717) 740-2428.
The PreK program will operate five day per week from 8:15 a.m. – 2:15 p.m., and students can stay until 3 p.m. Before-school and after-school care will be available.
Students learn through playful and engaging activities. The teacher individualizes each activity to meet the unique needs of every learner. The classroom schedule allows students to spend the majority of the day in small groups and/or individual settings. This enables the learner to move at his or her own pace while the teacher provides individualized instruction. The classroom is set up with a variety of interest areas, or centers, including blocks, dramatic play, toys and games, art, library, discovery, music and movement, and technology. These centers integrate science, math, technology, literacy and the arts. Students also develop large motor skills through regular physical activity. In addition, students grow spiritually through Godly play.
Teachers collaborate with parents through conferences, progress reports three times a year, and a parent meeting that provides resources for parents. Parents or caregivers may email or call the teacher and schedule additional times to meet with the teacher. Students are prepared to be successful and confident kindergarten students.
Students should be 4 years old by September 1 in order to enter the PreK program. Exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis.
Lunch will be provided during the day. The cost of lunch will be included for Pre-K Counts students. Snacks are provided for all students.
Background and Vision
When the first Mennonites and Anglicans arrived in central PA in the colonial era, one of their first concerns was the education of children, not just their own children, but the children of the whole community. The early Anglicans, who became known as Episcopalians after the Revolutionary War, worked closely with civil authorities to start the public schools of Lancaster as they did in Philadelphia. For centuries Episcopalians and Mennonites remained innovators and supporters of public and independent education. In the 20th century, Mennonites continued to hone their educational expertise to create one of the strongest faith-based school systems in the region, Lancaster Mennonite School.
Given their long associations with education, eventual collaboration is not surprising. The land on which LM’s Lancaster Campus sits was once the Episcopal-founded Yeates School for Boys, attended by many prominent Lancastrians in the 19th century, including the entrepreneurial Steinman brothers.
When Saint James Episcopal Church began to take up the call in the city for the creation of an ecumenical faith-based school, it first reached out to the then superintendent of Lancaster Public Schools, Pedro Rivera. On visiting Saint James’ center-city campus he said, “The Parish House would be a perfect location for an early learning center because it sits in the middle of the city, easily accessed by those coming from the Southeast and the Northwest, and giving all a chance for the huge benefits of mixed income groups learning together. The research shows mixed income contextualized learning gives some of the best learning outcomes for students.”
Father David Peck, rector of Saint James, called Richard Thomas, former superintendent of Lancaster Mennonite School, to ask if he would be interested in meeting to discuss possible collaboration. “It was a perfectly timed call,” Thomas recalled. “Lancaster Mennonite has been committed to working with students from Lancaster City. The school has a missional orientation which we understand means that we look to see where we can join with God and others in working for the common good. The call from David Peck resonated with that commitment and led to conversations that bring us to being ready to open this school.”
“Lancaster city students have a pressing need for quality pre-school to ensure they have the learning and social skills needed to thrive in elementary school,” Peck said. “We are in partnership with the Pre-K Counts program of the Commonwealth and are working closely with SDoL and the YWCA to create the best chance for kids from a range of economic backgrounds to begin a great education experience in a historic and contemplative campus setting in the heart of downtown.”
The contemplative experience will be a unique part of the curriculum. According to Peck, “We will blend the natural strengths of Anabaptist peacemaking traditions with the more mystical and contemplative traditions of the Episcopal Church. These were never meant to be separate things, but in divided churches and secular education became so. We hope this new school is itself a powerful statement of reconciliation and unity in a world that is divided by polarities of poverty and wealth as well as politics and religion.”
Superintendent Thomas agrees. “The biblical concept of shalom is all about the peace of God that comes through reconciliation and a common pursuit of justice by people in different groups and traditions. It is a great achievement and a natural aspiration of any faithful person to seek this common good. I think there is a real hunger for this perspective in education from the earliest years. That is what LM has been committed to doing for a long time, and I am proud of both its legacy and this new chapter of it.”
Peck added, “We will take what we are learning from neuroscience and apply it to our physical education, music, art and faith components in ways that encourage the development of heart, mind, body and soul through increasing a child’s capacity for creativity, wonder, joy and being in community. This creates social, intellectual and spiritual development that we know is integral, but which education systems all too often separate.”
It is envisaged that students will come to Saint James School through city residents of all backgrounds and from commuting parents working downtown. The school is seeking funding from the Pre-K Counts program through its partnership with the PA Department of Education program. The school will also rely upon private-pay students. Private contributions from the community will be necessary to make the program affordable as a service to the community. Pre-school and after school programs will also be available.