Oktoberfest event to raise money for new Highlandtown preschool: Prost!

Written by on October 8, 2014 in Neighborhood News - No comments
Organizers say Oktoberfest is family friendly fundraiser. - Courtesy photo

Organizers say Oktoberfest is family friendly fundraiser. – Courtesy photo

The ideas that come out of church retreats…

In May of 2013, the council at Breath of God Lutheran Church, known for its community involvement—and activism—as much as its ministry, ended up integrating two seemingly disparate concepts: school and beer, or, more specifically, a neighborhood pre-K school and a community Oktoberfest celebration.

The Oktoberfest idea came from the church council president, Kevin Koenig, remembers Carol Underwood, also a member of the council and a Baltimore County public school teacher.

“He was really talking about having some kind of community event that would expand our name in the community and have a social function,” she said.

Though the result is the same, Koenig remembers its genesis a little differently. 
“Are you kidding me?” he said. “I just wanted to have a beer bash in my parish.”

However, the “beer bash”—which is not only about beer and also features authentic German cuisine, German music and kids activities in addition to home brew samples—was the vehicle for floating a bigger idea, starting a community pre-K school, and housing it in the lower level of Breath of God.

“There’s a huge need for early childhood education in our neighborhood,” said Parker. “You have a ton of working parents who need high-quality education while their parents at work, or even parents who stay at home.”

At last year’s Oktoberfest—which brought in about 200 adults and 50 kids—guests viewed a presentation on the school idea over sauerkraut, bratwurst and steins of hearty beer.

“Oktoberfest was kind of a barometer to see what kind of support there was for the preschool,” said Underwood.

The support was there, and two months later, a task force of about a dozen members convened and got to work in getting the idea off the ground, an effort that to date has involved about 25 people, in and out, according to Underwood.

The next step is the election of a board of directors for the schools, which should happen within the next couple weeks, she added.

This weekend’s Oktoberfest celebration, Sunday, Oct. 12, 1-6 p.m. at Breath of God Lutheran Church, 141 S. Clinton St., will raise money for renovating the downstairs of the church to house two, 20-student classrooms, as well as office and storage space.

Underwood says that she is pushing to open the school in the Fall of 2015, and will follow the Baltimore City Public Schools calendar from there.

“We’re looking to open a 3’s class and a 4’s class, with extended care to meet the needs of working families,” she explained.

Currently, the idea is to have pre-K classes from 9 a.m.-noon, and then aftercare after that.

“We visited an immense amount of preschools,” she said. “We’re looking to do enrichment in the afternoon.”

“We’re still looking for community input and involvement,” she added.

Parker noted that teachers would be fully state-certified.

“We want fully-established, bachelor of science degrees,” he said.

He added that school hours would be flexible, according to a family’s needs. A student could come in five mornings a week, three hours per day, or much more than that, he said.

“There’s flexibility in terms of how many hours per week you’re sending your kids there,” he said.

The preschool will be directly catty-corner to Highlandtown Elementary and Middle School #215. Underwood says that the presence of the new school will be a positive influence on #215 and other nearby schools for older kids.

“If we have a cohort of parents [from our school] who are going to send all their kids to Highlandtown Elementary, it’ll have a transformative effect on that school,” she said.

“The goal is not only to feed kids, but to feed parents into the local elementary schools, and help them grow and strengthen,” Parker added. “It sounds a little grandiose, but we want to aim big, you know.”

Officially, the school will be called the Naomi Gieser Highlandtown Preschool at Breath of God Lutheran Church. It is named, Parker said, for “a lifelong member of our congregation, hugely dedicated to children and education.”

Gieser left money from her estate for the establishment of the school, and donors have offered gifts in her name, noted Underwood.

Tickets for Oktoberfest—which will include authentic German cuisine and music by the Heidi und Heimat Echo Band as well as home brew—are available at BreathofGodLC.org/howtohelp. Suggested donations are $25 for adults or $12 for those under 21 and other nondrinkers. Kids under 12 are free with a paying adult. The church is also holding a kids’ fun run on Saturday, Oct. 11, the day before Oktoberfest, from 9-10:30 a.m at Utz Field in Patterson Park. A $12 registration fee includes a medal and a snack. There are age-grouped races for kids from ages 1-10. Tickets are available at BreathofGodLC.org/howtohelp.

by Erik Zygmont

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