By Jamie Hunt

About 16 little children, ages 2 to 6 years old, were gathered around a table helping to make Jello at the Gingerbread House Preschool in Exeter, with their teacher Kim Smith. The excited children were interested and extremely helpful, pouring powder mix and stirring cold water into the hot Jello mixture.

&#8220Don't touch the hot water!” Smith told the children.

After all the mixing was done, Smith poured the Jello into each child's cup and added an ice cube and told the kids to stir. After a while each child enjoyed their own Jello cup.

After this fun outside activity the children then walked with their teachers to the Exeter Library.

Fun activities are scheduled daily at the preschool, which is located at 137 North Orange Avenue in Exeter, and is open five days a week.

The Gingerbread House which is having it's 20 year anniversary, is one of the few private schools in Exeter that has a contract with the state, according to it's director Tina Watson.

Watson, who recently became the owner of GBH, is very proud of her school, and has worked her way up as an employee through the years.

&#8220The kids are the reason I've been here for 20 years. I love working with young children.”

Watson said that the school has grown with the times and their childhood enrichment programs have evolved. The school's mission is to,

&#8220Provide children with opportunities to explore and discover through hands-on learning.” Children in the state preschool program can do a wrap around program; which is used primarily when both parents work. The wrap-around program allows the child in state preschool to stay at GBH for the remainder of the day, if they need additional care. GBH works with the Exeter school district, and provides services for the identified special needs children.

A state preschool receives a contract with the state after a grant is reviewed and accepted. The preschool program is then reviewed yearly by the state according to Watson. GBH has had the contract with the state since 1999, and there are many extra requirements.

&#8220There is an increase in staff education, requirements and rules the preschool has to follow to qualify for state standards,” Watson said, &#8220The class sizes are smaller, and there are assessments and evaluations for each child, as well as the school providing parent education and a children's nutrition program.”

Watson said because they are state funded the the preschool has to comply with curriculum to improve children's pre-kindergarten readiness.

The preschool teaches basic academic skills for kindergarten, and the GBH special education program is with the Department of Education.

The founders of Gingerbread House, Janet Hale and Janet Kneeland-Bass, are two enterprising women who had their own home-based child care businesses in Farmersville and Visalia. They met at Family Daycare Association and decided to start their own preschool in 1986, Watson said, which ultimately became the Gingerbread House.

When the preschool first started, Watson said that there were only two or three employees, with 36 children, but by 1990 the faculty at the school was expanded and the capacity for children doubled to 72.

Watson said the the Gingerbread House operates at full-capacity with state preschool and private preschool programs. The school provides meals, curriculum activities and activities such as arts and crafts, language arts, group activities outside, and time for free choice play.

In 1992 Hale and Kneeland-Bass opened a Gingerbread House in Visalia, which is operated by Watson and has the same state preschool and private preschool scheduling as the Exeter Gingerbread House.

Rose Sisneros, one of the preschool's 12 employees, has worked one-on-one with children since December, and has been at the preschool for two years. &#8220I love it. Everyday is different,” Sisneros said,

&#8220You don't know what to expect.” Sisneros usually works in the back room with 24 children. Another employee of Exeter GBH, Allison Capps, works with special needs children on a one-on-one basis.

&#8220Its always fun and always different,” Capps said, &#8220definitely not like a 9 to 5 job.” Capps said that during the summer she is helping with general duties at the Gingerbread House.

Watson, who will complete her Bachelor of Arts in Childhood Development in December, had invited a Human Development class from Pacific Oaks College and their instructor, Mary Jo Jordan, who was teaching her students about observation at the preschool.

For more information about Gingerbread House, call Tina Watson at 594-5566.

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