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From Shane Jopke's perspective, Little Esko Lutheran Preschool is a hidden gem among the myriad of preschool choices that local parents face today. Jopke has two children currently enrolled at the preschool, affectionately known as LELP, which is a part of St. Matthews Lutheran Church in Esko.

"My wife and I are really happy we found LELP," Jopke said. "We're not super religious people, so initially I was a little nervous about the faith-based piece. But I have been pleasantly surprised and love the good, homey feel at LELP."

LELP has been a part of St. Matthews since 2007 after moving out of the Washington Community Center. Although LELP was incorporated as a church ministry, preschool students do not need to be church members, or even Lutheran. In fact, the majority of students have either no religious affiliation or are members at other local churches. LELP's policy is to admit students of any race, color and national or ethnic origin.

April Thompson echoed Jopke's comments. "I knew it was the right place for my daughter when we went to the Open House," she said. "I love the small feel, everyone is so welcoming and it's just a very comfortable place. The teachers treat my kids like family and yet it's a structured environment." Thompson's daughter has moved on to kindergarten and now her son is at LELP.

Director Sybil Halvorson and Assistant Teacher Mae Garson gently guide each child through the half-day classes that include art projects, Spanish lessons, Bible stories, kindergarten-readiness activities, music, large-motor playtime and much more. According to the preschool page on the church website, 'LELP strives to meet the individual needs of each child to help prepare him/her for kindergarten and experience God's unconditional love.'

Thompson would agree. "LELP teachers let my daughter's personality shine," she said. "She made many friends at LELP that she still has now in kindergarten. She was so ready for kindergarten and it's all because of this preschool."

"It's not the same ABCs everyday," Thompson continued. "A few weeks ago, they were working with pulleys. My son loves trying to figure things out; he thought it was great fun. The kids also get to be helpers throughout the morning, which really keeps them engaged."

Carrie Altrichter's son is in his second year at LELP. Although she initially selected LELP because it fit her schedule, she has been "blown away" by the program. "We enjoy this preschool so much! The kids are moving around every day, whether it's outside or in the big room next to the classroom," Altrichter said.

Halvorson smiled. "We are blessed to have access to the church's Family Life Center whenever the weather prevents us from getting outside to our enclosed playground," she said. "The kids play with balls, walk on bucket stilts, ride tricycles and do many other activities for daily exercise. We also have a bring-your-bike-and-helmet-to-school day when we rope off a section of the church parking lot."

LELP is in its second year of using Creative Curriculum, a nationally-recognized, research-based program. Additionally, specialists teach weekly music and Spanish lessons. But it's the Christmas and Spring music programs - when students sing in front of their adoring audience - that really makes parents smile.

"Both of my kids are much more aware of music now," said Jopke. Thompson and Altrichter agreed: their children love to sing!

"I am impressed with everything the kids are learning; my son talks about the Bible stories and God at home, it's become part of his everyday life" added Altrichter. "He loves school and always looks forward to class days. For our family, LELP has been a wonderful experience."

Jopke agreed. "I would whole-heartedly recommend Little Esko Lutheran Preschool," he said. "If more people knew about this program, the classroom would be filled to capacity." LELP is licensed for 20 children per day.

For more information, including rates and hours, please visit the website at https:// http://www.stmatthewsesko.org/little-esko-preschool. To arrange a visit, contact the school at [email protected]

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