This blog is part of a new series for the 2022-23 school year to ILLUMINATE how God is at work at San Jose Christian School. Each post will spotlight a specific grade level and/or program. The first post in this series is a spotlight on the Preschool Music & Worship program, and features interviews from: Ms. Monique Nicoleau (Preschool Director), Ms. Cat Miller (Worship and Performing Arts Teacher), and Mrs. Cat Vo (Preschool Lead Teacher, Dragonflies).
Monique Nicoleau came to San Jose Christian as a Preschool Teacher in 2016 and became the Preschool Director two years later. She said one thing that she enjoys about her current role is being able to advocate for the teachers, since she understands what it is like to be one. One of her goals as the Director is to align the Preschool with JK-8 in order to create greater unity across the campus.
In addition to unity, Ms. Nicoleau has also contributed to an evolution in what music and worship looks like in the Preschool. Since its opening in 2009, the Preschool has always had chapel and music. But the program developed significantly with the influence of Ms. Cat Miller.
Since her arrival in 2019, Ms. Miller has added new student opportunities such as Tigers Got Talent, grade-level-specific musicals, and daily Preschool Music that connects to and enhances the preschool curriculum. Ms. Nicoleau said, “We were so happy to onboard Cat because it took the weight off of other teachers trying to have to do [music]... And now having music incorporated into the weekly curriculum is even better.”
“I think music is just another language that God has given us, and it’s universal.”
“I believe it begins their day centered,” Ms. Nicoleau responded, explaining the benefits of teaching music and worship at a young age. She added that the program also enhances student listening skills, coordination, and self-expression. Moreover, teaching music gives students the vocabulary and the language to worship God in a way that is both universal and already intrinsic to us as humans. Ms. Miller put it this way: “I think music is just another language that God has given us, and it’s universal.”
In fact, everything anyone needs to worship is intrinsic; when students sing and dance during Preschool Music and Chapel, they come before God with their whole heart, mind, and body. Ms. Miller observes that, at this young age, students are not self-monitoring, but instead she sees, “so much exuberance in [their] worship. They’re just free to worship and they use their whole bodies and give all their hearts.”
Watching these children sing and dance is just fun. And while it is adorable to see, Ms. Miller reminds us that, “There’s no mini Holy Spirit.” Preschool students are not accessing only part of the Spirit because of their age or their size. Their worship is big, and it is pleasing to God. It is a reminder why Jesus taught us to come before God just like these children (Matthew 18:4).
Both Ms. Nicoleau and Mrs. Cat also reported seeing the Holy Spirit at work in their preschoolers when students offer prayer requests and praises. In this part of the daily routine, they expressed that students are “excited to pray,” and students and teachers alike use this time to focus their day. Incorporating prayer into the day also creates a community that relies on and trusts God. Mrs. Cat told how, throughout the day, if she, or a student, feels something tugging on their heart, they will stop and pray, often interceding on someone else’s behalf.
These opportunities teach young students that they are the ones in relationship with God. In these moments, preschoolers see that there is no one right way to worship. They can clap, jump, or stand still; they can pray for what’s on their heart aloud or silently. But in all these moments, they are growing in their faith and strengthening a foundation that can never be taken away.
“There’s no mini Holy Spirit… Everyone can use their gifts.”
Like every program at San Jose Christian, our Preschool develops the Whole Child. This means that teachers and staff not only teach students academically, but also socially, emotionally, and spiritually. Mrs. Cat stated how she treats music the same as any other subject such as math or Spanish. She uses songs to teach other subjects and has a center with musical instruments that students can use during Center Time. Putting it succinctly, Mrs. Cat added: “Everything ties in together. We're here to learn, we're here to teach, we're here to grow, we're here to engage in all these things.”
This approach to education at San Jose Christian School is the core of our mission. Describing the best part of working at the school, everyone pointed to the joy at seeing student growth over the year, or years. Referencing Proverbs 22:6, Ms. Nicoleau said we: “‘Raise up a child in the direction they will go.’ If we teach worship at a young age, I feel they will carry it as they get older.”
Part of teaching several different grade levels at once, is understanding each developmental stage and being able to create a program that builds as students move through it. In Preschool, Ms. Miller noted that this looks like both balancing movement and imagination and giving students plenty of opportunities for wonder. For example, when they experience a new instrument, it’s a hands-on experience where students hold and manipulate the new object to try it in several different ways. She said, “I love being in with kids as they're just discovering the world and it's kind of like I get to discover it with them.”
The consistency of Ms. Miller’s curriculum throughout the grade levels means students are more prepared for band and choir and have more confidence in performances and musicals. At San Jose Christian, there is an opportunity to perform and sing at every level, from Preschool to 8th Grade. “It just builds… It becomes familiar,” Ms. Miller said. Without consistency, students may not think they can sing or perform on stage. That is why Ms. Miller does put them on the stage and give them a microphone, even when they’re three. “I give them a chance to develop these skills, and their talents that God already put in them, and it gives them the confidence to use [a performance] to declare His name.”
“It honestly does not feel like work at all… It feels like you're going to where God is sending you today.”
Ultimately, we know, and proclaim, that it is God doing the work. Describing her favorite part of teaching Preschool, Mrs. Cat responded that she really loved reading and teaching Bible stories in her class. She said, “I take it very seriously, where it's like: ‘Wow, God’s using me to minister to them’… At first, I couldn't wrap my head around it.” Feeling God’s presence and the Holy Spirit working through her was a reminder that she isn’t just reading a Bible story; rather, she is “speaking the message that God put in me for that day.”
This is also how Mrs. Cat sees God’s Light at San Jose Christian. Speaking with true amazement, she expressed the feeling she gets when student growth and understanding is evident in the Preschool classroom. “When they speak up and they are retelling what we've learned throughout the day, or like their feedback, even… that's where it makes me feel good.” She also related how parents have observed this Light in their children as well. Parents tell her that their kids are going home singing, worshiping, and telling them everything they learned that day.
“I also see it in the teachers,” Ms. Miller replied, describing where she sees the Light. She said Chapel is one of the few places everyone is together, participating in the same event. Usually, teachers have prep time when Ms. Miller comes to their rooms for music class; but in Chapel, everyone is together, as one body. “The teachers are worshiping with the kids during Chapel, and we're like a family worshiping together. It's like all of us together, worshiping God. And that is – that is everything.”
“It honestly does not feel like work at all,” Mrs. Cat affirmed. “It's just like going to church every single day except you're at work, and that's the best part of it… It feels like you're going to where God is sending you today.”
San Jose Christian School will present The Preschool Mini Musical on April 21, 2023 at 9:30AM.
Rae Sterk is the Director of Community Development at San Jose Christian.
Monique Nicoleau is the Preschool Director at San Jose Christian School.
Cat Miller is the Music and Worship Teacher at San Jose Christian School.
Catherine Vo (Mrs. Cat) is the Lead Teacher in the Dragonflies classroom at San Jose Christian.