St. Anthony Preschool children explore the new playground equipment after a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, May 19. (Submitted photo)

St. Anthony Preschool children ages 2 to 4 have new, modern playground equipment to climb on, thanks to the St. Anthony School Gala, a virtual fundraising event held last fall, and grant funds from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and the Luedki-Smith Fund. The efforts provided $50,000 toward preschool upgrades, including this project, located at 1727 S. Ninth St., Milwaukee.

After a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, May 19, by St. Anthony School President, Dr. Rosana Mateo, the preschool students had their first opportunity to try out the new equipment.

According to St. Anthony Communications and Fund Development Specialist Gretchen Zyduck, the children were ecstatic to play on their newly designed playground.

“They have been watching construction over the past few weeks and couldn’t wait for it to be finished,” she said. “Before this, students had a plastic play structure and clubhouse on foam padding. We have added 11 active play events, artificial grass and a bike path for tricycles through this project.”

Zyduck explained that St. Anthony’s Early Childhood Education Center currently enrolls 83 students aged 2 to 4 and is rated five stars by YoungStar, Wisconsin’s Child Care Quality Rating and Improvement System. As of January 2020, only 8 percent of 1,018 childcare facilities in the Milwaukee region hold a five-star rating.

“This prestigious rating indicates the program’s highly qualified staff, standards-based educational instruction, and dedication to students’ safety and well-being,” she said. “This year, St. Anthony School made the Early Childhood Education Center location permanent with the purchase of its building and surrounding property, including a fenced lot intended for outdoor play and exploration.”

Between the ages of 3 and 5, Zyduck explained that a child’s brain is twice as busy as that of a college student and three times more engaged than an adult’s, building language, math, memory, attention and complex problem-solving skills. During this development period, young children benefit most from high-sensory opportunities, especially physical play such as running and jumping.

“Before purchasing the property, St. Anthony’s Early Childhood Education Center’s outdoor playground installation was limited to the terms of our former lease agreement,” she said. “We can now better meet the physical needs of our students with a permanent early childhood playground that will provide a multitude of high-sensory opportunities for children to explore their surroundings, build gross motor skills and grow socially through outdoor play.”