Christine Collins serves as the director of Scripps Exploring Academy and oversees the day-to-day operations. (photos by John Gregory)
A world of exploration
It seems fitting that on this Labor Day weekend we visit one of the hardest working women in Scripps Ranch: Christine Collins, the director of Scripps Exploring Academy (SEA), a local preschool located at 9855 Erma Road.
Any parent knows that looking after one, two or three kids is a hectic job. Can you imagine looking after dozens and dozens? Collins has help from teachers and teacher’s assistants, of course, but she is in charge of all the day-to-day operations, and she can often be found inside the classrooms, working with the teachers and getting to know the children. In addition, Collins, who has a master’s degree, is studying to earn her doctorate.
A tour through SEA is a special treat, especially during lunchtime. Youngsters can be seen gathered at short tables, seated on tiny chairs, carefully feeding themselves and politely socializing with one another. It’s as if they are tiny adults enjoying a lunch break. The peace and order is amazing.
Walls are decorated with colorful, handmade posters created by the kids and staff, all lettered with positive and happy messages. Photos of the children project a positive self-image. Play items are neatly lined along brightly-colored shelves. Play kitchens and small libraries are set up in many of the rooms.
Students in classes not yet on their lunch periods sit on nice throw rugs and quietly listen to their teachers. Their focus is amazing for kids so young, especially in a group setting.
While teachers work on developmental basics such as sensory experiences, social behavior and early communication skills, it’s obvious that fundamentals like math, reading and writing are being introduced as well.
Teachers in the infant center are extremely attentive. The safety and well-being of the little ones are obviously at the top of the priority list.
Playgrounds outside are fenced safely. There is a main playground with a play house, tricycles and such. On the other side of the building sits a special playground for younger children with smaller play houses of plastic and super safe play equipment.
There is a small garden where children can help plant seeds and watch things as they grow.
SEA has been operating since 1979 and Collins has served as director for the last 13 years. SEA is a privately-owned preschool.
“We’re very family-oriented and strive to serve our children and families,” Collins explained.
“Here, we really try to make it a personal experience for everybody. And we care,” she said.
SEA has 10 classrooms divided into groups with children between 6 weeks through 5 years of age. The classes are named to match the school’s acronym, SEA. There are Angel Fish, Sea Turtles, Star Fish, Sea Horses, Jelly Fish and so on.
The infant center is divided into three classes: newborns, 6 weeks to 8 months; 8 months to 14 months; and 14 months to 18 months. Toddlers have two classes: 18 to 24 months; and 24 to 30 months. There are potty-training classes with children from 30 to 36 months; a class for 3-year-olds; a class for 4-year-olds and a class for 5-year-olds.
“We stress readiness but also balance,” Collins said. “They’re still kids. I don’t want them to sit at a desk all day, but I do want them to know how to write their names …”
The class for 5-year-olds prepares the students for kindergarten. At the end of the year, SEA holds a special graduation ceremony. Most of the kids feed into kindergartens at Scripps Ranch elementary schools. The students who go through the last class are taught some math, writing, reading and a number of other lessons, and they are taught with great care and attention.
As an example of how well-prepared SEA graduates are, Collins noted that public schools started last week and kindergarteners have been doing their assessments. One of the mothers whose daughter went to SEA and is now in kindergarten came in to pick up her younger child who is now also attending SEA. The mother said her daughter was undergoing her assessment. When the mother asked the daughter how it went, “She said, ‘Oh, Mom, the teacher gave me two books and they were so easy.’”
Collins was quick to emphasize that the quality of the staff sets SEA apart from some other preschools. Preschool teachers are required by California law to have completed 12 college units as a minimum, and SEA has been able to employ many staff members with education and experience well beyond those requirements.
SEA is open year-long. It is a full-service day care center as well as a preschool. It is open 11.5 hours each day and is closed 10 days per year for holidays.
SEA charges a one-time registration fee and tuition is on a monthly basis. There is also a yearly materials fee.
The preschool is so popular that there is a waiting list to get in. Collins said it’s not impossible to get a child enrolled in SEA, but parents need to start the process as early as possible, adding that that this is the case for nearly all preschools.
“What people need to know is that we are full. We have a long wait list. Most schools are full. … People don’t know to look for care early,” she explained. “Quality care is hard to find. So, as soon as you become pregnant or as soon as you move to a new area, you need to look right away.”
Collins proudly notes that her preschool has an excellent record maintaining its student enrollment.
“We have a really low turnover with our families. We usually have both children (from a family), all the children, cousins. So, that’s kind of nice,” she said.
To learn more about SEA, visit myseaonline.com.