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YMCA’s 130+ Years Of Impact: Early Learning With The Franchuk Family

Feature photo by Hillary Ehlen

The YMCA has been making an impact in our community for more than 130 years. For February’s cover story, we met with individuals and families who’ve been a part of the organizations past and present to share stories and hear the reasons why they continue to support the Y.

Sandy Franchuk — along with her son Ryan, his wife Tara and their children Nash, Parker and Brooklyn — sat down with us to explain her experience with the YMCA’s Early Learning Center, especially in her role as a coordinator for KinderKamp.

Tell us about your experience with the Y from the beginning:
Sandy Franchuk: KinderKamp is the name of the preschool we have at the Fercho YMCA. This is my 28th year there. The first two years, I was a teacher and ever since then I’ve been a coordinator. I feel so lucky because being a grandma is the best thing in the world, and being a teacher — and I get to do both. The grandkids aren’t actually in my group, but I get to be there and see what goes on. Only one Franchuk in each group, we say.

Sandy Franchuk

A photo of Sandy Franchuk teaching.

During the school year, it’s KinderKamp, and that’s nine months just like a regular preschool. During the summer, there is Busy Beaver Camp, which is the same age group.

Tara Franchuk: Busy Beaver Camp is only one week long and has nine different sessions that go through nine different themes. Depending on what your kids are interested in depends on which you go to.

SF: Themes could include cooking, dinosaur week, camping and then during each week, we’ll go on a field trip. For Busy Beaver Camps in the summer, there are scholarships. If you apply and are eligible for it, the child can get that experience and it’s all taken care of.

Is this all part of the Early Learning Center?
SF: Yes, there is a full-time child care center, there’s the afterschool program, there’s the drop-in care and then the preschool.

There’s just so much to preschool. More than just doing paperwork. We’re fortunate at the Y because it offers all the different activity areas. Our hope is the children come out of preschool with a positive attitude toward school because if they like school, they’ll have a passion for it and succeed. They think they’re just there to have fun, but it’s amazing how much they can learn.

What’s a day in KinderKamp look like?
SF: When they first arrive, it’s free-play time. Then we have circle time where we sing songs and do different activities. This week our theme was community helpers so we talked about different jobs in the community. Many of the children dressed up and acted them out. Today was also swimming day so we did that and came back to read a story. Other days, it might be our day to go to kids gym, practice our handwriting or doing show and tell. There’s Monday/Wednesday/Friday and then Tuesday/Thursday programs.

What do you love most about the Y?
SF: I’m very biased because KinderKamp is my program. I’ve had the same teachers for 20-30 years so we’ve become a family. It’s like home.

TF: It’s easy with grandma there. It works with our everyday lives. It worked out with Brooklyn and now it’s working out with the boys.

Ryan Franchuk: It’s not just KinderKamp. They also have drop-in care if you want to go workout — two hours a day. That’s perfect for us when we want to work out or do another activity there.

TF: When you’re a member of the Y, you’re able to get discounts on swimming lessons and other activities, which makes things more accessible. Also, for utilizing the preschool, we get an even better deal at the membership, so it actually makes it all one package together. Overall, we enjoy it. We like that they have pools and all of the other fun things like basketball, gymnastics and group fitness classes for me. There’s a little bit of everything.

Any fun stories about children you’ve seen go through the program now all grown up?
SF: We’ve already had several children of children because all of us have been there so long. When we see the families in the community, most of the time the child has changed so much we can’t even recognize them, but we still recognize the parents.

I just heard from a mom that her daughter was a senior in high school and she’d had a boyfriend for two years. It wasn’t until they set up their graduation open house pictures that they realized they had been in the same preschool class together at the Y. That was a fun story.

What is the importance of KinderKamp?
SF: I truly think people value preschool more and more. I was just going through some files last week and what I’m teaching in preschool is what we taught in kindergarten 30 years ago. The academics have really moved down so I think parents feel it is so important that their child gets this education. With some families I know, this is a financial burden for them, but they’re willing to because they know how important it is. We provide the children with a great experience and hope they come out well-rounded and ready for kindergarten.

Written by Kara Jeffers

Fargo Monthly Editor Kara Jeffers is from Garrison, North Dakota, a small town north of Bismarck, North Dakota, on Lake Sakakawea. She graduated from North Dakota State University in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in theatre arts. In addition to working at Spotlight Media, Jeffers also works at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitor’s Center, where she’s one of the first people (and, at times, the only person) visitors meet when they arrive in North Dakota—talk about pressure.

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