Michaela Andrade rushes to hug her former teacher, Maya Garcia, during an open house for students at the new Lake Stevens Early Learning Center on Friday in Lake Stevens. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Michaela Andrade rushes to hug her former teacher, Maya Garcia, during an open house for students at the new Lake Stevens Early Learning Center on Friday in Lake Stevens. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Preschoolers and parents get a sneak peek at a new space

Lake Stevens opens a dedicated early learning center, funded by a voter-approved bond. (Video)

LAKE STEVENS — The kids charged through a child-sized front door, built about half the height of the adult door next to it.

Later, though, some hesitated in the doorways of their classrooms, uncertain about this new environment.

Lake Stevens preschool teachers welcomed families to the new early learning center off Lake Drive during an open house the day before Winter Break. It was a chance for the 3- and 4-year-old students to get comfortable in the space while their parents got a peek at where their children will be learning as of Jan. 8.

After teacher Trisha Romanus convinced 3-year-old Benjamin Grund to cross the threshold into class, the boy began to grin. He jumped up and down, turning in circles to take in the classroom, and hamming it up for his mom, Lisa Grund. She laughed at his antics and snapped photos on her cellphone.

“I just ride the bus to come to a new school,” Benjamin said. “I like they have all the things I want.”

He’s a fan of the cars and trains, and the play kitchen. He’s confident in his abilities as a chef.

Romanus lifted Benjamin up near the windows and showed him where construction crews were busy with heavy equipment next door at Stevens Creek Elementary. The elementary is set to open in the fall.

The two schools were paid for as part of a $116 million bond passed by voters in 2016.

The new preschool building houses two programs: the state-funded Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program and classes for children who are developmentally delayed. There are about 250 students total and seven teachers, most of whom teach a morning and afternoon session each day.

It’s not the norm for a district to have a dedicated pre-K building, district spokeswoman Jayme Taylor said. Usually, early learning programs share space in another school. In Lake Stevens, the classes were previously in the former alternative high school near Hillcrest Elementary. It wasn’t built for young children.

The new school has a spacious community room, indoor and outdoor play areas connected by a garage-style door, and child-sized restrooms attached to classrooms.

Lorena Ahola has been teaching in Lake Stevens for 13 years. She works with about 30 kids in two ECEAP sessions. She waited eagerly in her classroom for families to arrive during the open house. There were costumes hung up for dress-up, a miniature kitchen with fake food, and centers for art, writing and math.

“The fact that everything is child-sized for these beautiful little people is just so exciting,” Ahola said. “We survived in our old space, and now we’re just going to thrive.”

Building leader Matt Wyant said the school finally matches the quality programs inside.

Wyant welcomed back-to-back busloads of families. Parents followed their 3- and 4-year-olds off the buses, some bringing strollers or carriers with younger siblings.

Families started their tours in the office and then the meeting room. Ashley Vasquez’s 4-year-old daughter, Madelyn, hurried into the meeting area. She pointed and threw her arms in the air in excitement. The family was impressed by the space and decor, with big, bright windows and art on nearly every wall.

“It’s really nice,” Ashley Vasquez said. “It’s pretty, and more space was definitely needed.”

Dad David Vasquez said he hopes the new building helps Madelyn and her friend feel excited to come to school.

There’s enough room on the same campus to build a new middle school someday, too, though that won’t be for at least another decade, Taylor said.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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