One Tuesday in August, a group of kindergarten students from the Geist Mud Creek Christian Church campus school gathered in the gymnasium around five interlocking hoops on the floor. The class participates in child-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 kindergartens were in danger at the start of the school year due to the financial toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Mud Creek school received a grant from the church to continue paying staff.
“Not all preschools are church-based, but many are,” said Valerie Zeigler, principal of the Mud Creek campus. “It’s a challenge because they are private and based around registered ministries. Some are non-profit, some are church related, some are simply renting out the building. It’s definitely a different beast than the (Indiana Dept. of Education).
According to Mud Creek Deputy Director Paula Mager, the Kindergartens of Kids at Geist in Geist community and Wee Care at Fall Creek Baptist churches have closed during COVID-19, while Promise Church, among others, has 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 classes,” Mager said. “The teachers were able to maintain this relationship with the students, so the students knew their teachers and they knew who the Geist Christian was.”
The Geist Christian Church school 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 18-month-old kindergarten students and has an average of around 200 students each year. The pupil-teacher ratios in the classroom are 11-1 for kindergarten. A nursery school day lasts for 9 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 border between Marion County and Fishers, is home to 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 all over town to bring my kid to school this year,” Bryan said.
Bryan a sent two girls at Geist Christian’s school, and one is currently enrolled.
“I like the people of this school“said Bryan.” They treat my kids like they’re their own kids, and they’re like family to mee. THey, 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.
The quality of the staff spoke to Fishers resident Lisa Schoenrock, who sent four children to Mud Creek school. At some point 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 this warm hazy of ‘This is exactly where I want my kid to be,'” Schoenrock said. “All the staff are so happy. It starts at the top with Valérie and Paula and all the teachers. There’s just very little turnover there. They all go beyond teaching children.
Although almost all of the staff are part-time, the stability of the staff has helped the school stay open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a continuity of staff. In a daycare program, staff can change three times during a 6 am to 6 pm 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 have pulled some of our courses over the past year due to declining student numbers, but our goal has always been to stay open,” Zeigler said. “We had great support from the church, which was able to make known (of our situation to the community that goes to church). 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 apply mitigation efforts such as hiding young students and teachers.
“It broke my heart that the kids and the teachers had to hide,” Bryan said. “The reason I put them in this school is largely because the teachers are so attentive to your children, they smile and hug each other, 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 wasn’t the same anymore. The teachers hated him and I know the staff hated him. 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. 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 starting to go up for kindergarten.
To build confidence in the school and classrooms, the campus has resumed some summer camps, which were closed in the summer of 2020.
“You have to enter with confidence,” said Valerie Zeigler, director of the Mud Creek campus.