CARTERVILLE — Walking into Robin’s Nest Learning Center in Carterville, one may feel like they are in an educational amusement park.

Fake leaves can be seen falling from paper trees along the ceiling of the main office on one side and pictures of students cover the opposite wall.

The private preschool, which has 285 students from ages 6 weeks to 12 years, excels in the color of its rooms as well as the achievements it has gained.

Robin Moore, director of the center was recently named Director of the Year through the Association of Early Learning Leaders. The association recognizes leaders of early childhood education nationwide.

Robin’s Nest was started in 2007, but Moore began her work with youngsters when her daughter, Brittany Rodriguez, was sick as an infant. Rodriguez, now 21, is a teacher at Robin’s Nest.

“I’m really proud to be part of what we are doing and what we have accomplished together as a team,” Rodriguez said.

With winning Director of the Year, Moore was able to gain some added benefits for her school, such as free training for her staff. This led to the center earning the Gold Circle of Excellence from Excelerate Illinois, a system that rates early childcare programs based on research in child development.

To win the Gold Circle, Robin’s Nest was judged school-wide on everything from the size of the screws on the playground equipment to the amount of books and blocks in each classroom. Moore is quick to mention that this award would not have been possible without the help of her staff.

“I rely on my great staff every single day,” Moore said. “If something is not working right we take it, we look at it and we work together to fix it.”

“It’s never just about one person with us,” she added. It’s always a team effort and I have the best.”

Teacher Michelle Maas left Robin’s Nest for a time to take another position but said she was lured back because of the family-like unit that she had with her co-workers.

Assistant directors Jena Parson and Angela Musial both say that the staff cohesiveness is a major reason for the center’s success.

“If someone has an issue they are comfortable enough to talk to someone about without fear of someone getting mad at them,” Parson said. “It’s about guiding everyone in the right direction which is to do what is in the best interest of the children,” she added.

Each classroom at the center is named and modeled after a children’s book and each is picked by Moore for a reason. For example, a classroom of infants is named after the book, “A House for Hermit Crab.”

“Each book is based on what the children do,” Moore said. “In 'A House for Hermit' he is trying to find a shell that fits his body and little infants are trying to figure out their bodies as they are brought into the world.”

Each room has hand painted murals that run along the walls that coincide with the book they are named for.

The book title metaphors run in sequence for the classrooms because each one is arranged according to the children’s skills. A class of 2-year-old non-potty trained students is named for the book “Hug a Caterpillar,” for the hope that they will be able to transition to the potty trained room much like a caterpillar develops into a butterfly.

Moore said another reason for the book titles is to teach children to love to read books.

“If you can get children to love to read they can be successful at anything,” Moore said. “Our kids are leaving the pre-K classroom reading at the first grade level.”

Parents are a vital part of the process at Robin’s Nest. The parents have shown their appreciation enough through written well-wishes and cards to staff members that Moore was able to start a “feel-good wall” to keep them.

The school’s success has led to the planning of a new building to house their school age students that construction will begin on in the near future.

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