Blessed Beginnings director finds home at school

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By Megan LaTorre
— Former head teacher and director of Circle of Friends, Gina Buono, has been implementing her vision at Blessed Beginnings Preschool and Kindergarten, a faith-based school and branch of the First Presbyterian Church of Sparta, since July 2013.

After working four years, Buono took time off from teaching when her son was born. As her son grew older, she chose to have him attend Blessed Beginnings for preschool and kindergarten.

“The reason I came here for my son is because the reputation of the school,” Buono said. “Blessed Beginnings came so highly recommended that my husband and I never even looked at another school.”

Quality early childhood education for the students has always been a priority at Blessed Beginnings. Founded by several First Presbyterian Church of Sparta members, Blessed Beginnings opened in 1996 as a Christian-based school. In 1999, full day kindergarten was added to their programs.

Shortly after her son started attending Blessed Beginnings, Buono began working for the Circle of Friends Preschool, a school through the Sparta Parks and Recreation. Even so, Buono seemed to be drawn back to Blessed Beginnings.

“When I brought him here, I kind of envisioned myself working here someday,” Buono said. “I never thought it would be in the capacity of director. I just kind of figured maybe I would teach here one day.”

Through a series of events, Buono heard about the former director of Blessed Beginnings, Sandy Poots, retiring. Having 20 years of experience as head teacher and director prior to this position and having had great experiences with her son there, Buono made a few phone calls to inquire about the vacancy.

Buono said that once she made the decision and came to Blessed Beginnings, she could not have asked for a better staff.

“The women here are not only loving and nurturing toward the children, but they are that way towards each other,” Buono said.

Every day, the staff prays together in the morning before the children come. In addition, the Blessed Beginnings staff also attends monthly training workshops to stay current on any changes in early childhood education.

Once classes are in session, Buono proceeds with her directorial duties, which includes greeting parents and students daily, maintaining policies and procedures set forth by the state, checking on the classes in session, returning phone calls, setting up appointments, and giving tours to new and inquiring families. Buono gives the tour with not only as the director, but from the perspective of a mom.

Buono also works closely with Pastor Pat Sileo. This includes mission projects, coordinating visits with the children, and scheduling time in the shared space.

“Basically, I do a little bit of everything,” Buono said when explaining her job duties. “I try to make sure everyone is happy.”

Buono’s responsibility as the director is not only to maintain the established ways, but to implement new methods in order to keep improving the school. A few of these changes include adding extra days to the school year as a result of the snow days and creating an emailing system in order to reduce the amount of paperwork parents receive.

Buono’s first full year as director of Blessed Beginnings will conclude this spring.

Teacher Jamie Clapa said there has been a lot of positive changes since Buono took over, saying the director’s door is always open.

"I love working with her and going to work every day,” Clapa said. “The atmosphere is great… The day just flows. There is never any tension. It is a welcoming atmosphere to work in."

Currently, 70 children are enrolled in the different programs for five different age groups, consisting of the three year olds, four year olds, pre-kindergarten, years to grow, and kindergarten. Most of the programs last for several hours and have morning and afternoon sessions to choose from. The kindergarten program, however, is a full-day session.

“Educating children younger than age six is almost becoming a necessity because of a lot of towns beginning to implement full-day kindergarten and the standards becoming much stricter at an early age,” Buono said.

The program help them not only succeed educationally, but socially, she said. It helps them to follow rules, to learn to get along with other children in a group, and to find their own way, Buono said.

Blessed Beginnings is currently in the process of enrollment and registration for classes for the 2014-2015 school year.

“My goals for the future would be to continue to build on the great reputation that Blessed Beginnings has become known for. I want people to hear the name Blessed Beginnings and say ‘My kids went there; it’s a great school,’” Buono said.

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