When Go Love Academy opens in the fall at Oasis Community Church, the students will gather in rooms such as Kodomo, Niños, Kinder, Watoto and Bambini — the words all mean “children” in different languages. Director Paula Katutis and her staff originally came up with the names so they would know which classrooms they were talking about when setting up the preschool.
But the names represent so much more.
The 10-year-old church is a melting pot of different cultures, magnified by the fact that many families have adopted children from other countries, creating an international atmosphere at the church.
The preschool is a dream come true, said Pastor William Karshima, who has led the church as senior pastor for four years.
“It has been on my heart,” Karshima said. “When we came we started noticing some needs in the church. I think … the key reason that made us want to open a preschool is talking to some of the families in the church and some families we know who were involved in adoption and foster care.
“They said they have kids in preschool, but a lot of the schools don’t know how to deal with these kids who have had so much trauma,” Karshima said. “You have to know how to love them and care for them differently. I think it was a frustration for many parents. My wife and myself, our hearts are all about adoption and caring for children.”
Katutis said this will be a typical preschool but the teachers will be trained in a social and emotional curriculum so they are prepared to work with children who might have difficulty adjusting to different environments.
“Our philosophy is that every child is a unique, special gift from God and deserves our time and our respect and our love,” the director said.
“We wanted to have a place that was a different … that kids who (have experienced trauma) have a place to come where they will be loved that way,” Karshima said. “We came up with the name Go Love because of that. We felt that every child deserved to be loved regardless of where they came from and their struggles.
“They deserve to be loved the way Jesus intended,” he said.
The school will use the Frog Street Press curriculum, which includes a “conscious discipline” program that works for everyone, Katutis said.
“(It) really promotes a classroom family,” she said. “You love each other, you pray for each other, you lift each other up. … We’re all in this together.”
The classrooms are broken down by age. There will be six students in the 1-year-old class, 11 in the 2-year-old class, 14 total in two 3-year-old classes and 18 4-year-olds with two teachers in the VPK class.
The staff is considering offering parenting classes once school is in session.
Katutis, a Winter Garden resident, came on as a consultant but ended up taking the full-time director’s position.
“I believe it totally was God pushing me out of where I was and putting me where I need to be,” she said. “Kids are my life. I respect them. I love them. I always do what’s best for them.”
Prior to joining the Go Love team, Katutis worked for seven years at Christ the King Lutheran Preschool, in south Orlando. She has worked with children of all ages since 1999.
“Kids are wonderful,” she said. “I think the reason I relate to them so well is I respect them. They’re not a pet, they’re not an animal. They are a little person. They have thoughts, and they have ideas. If you respect that, they will respect you. Let them feel like they have something to contribute.”