By Carol S. Niemi

The Chastain School is Sandy Springs’ newest preschool and child development center, having opened its doors in the city on Oct. 2. But the Chastain School is not really new.

The school previously operated for 20 years at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Buckhead until the growing church needed to reallocate the school’s space.

Rather than see the much-loved preschool come to an end, ‘Tom Wakefield, a parent with two children in the school, and his business partner Ron Kirk decided to preserve the school’s Christian heritage and home-away-from-home environment at a different location.

Thus was born The Chastain School at 4967 Roswell Road, in a building that most recently housed the non-denominational Buckhead Church and before that a Harris Teeter supermarket.

To the new location came the core of the original school—both programs and people—virtually intact.

“Almost all the children made the move,” says Kirk, “as did all the teachers and management.”

So did one of the school’s most appreciated traditions—continuity of care. The school makes every attempt to keep the children together as a group with the same teachers, from the age of six weeks through the toddler program.

“This way,” says Wakefield, “both the children and their parents develop a relationship with their teachers. It’s one way we maintain the home-away-from feeling.”

What is inside the doors of the new Chastain School location is not a typical daycare center.

Once through the electronically restricted-access entrance, visitors are greeted by 21,000 square feet of spacious hallways adorned with hand-painted, floor-to-ceiling thematic murals and 12 thematically related classrooms.

The first hall, “Main Street,” where the preschool and after-school classrooms are located, is lined with dual-purpose displays such as “The Grocery Store” that does double-duty as students’ coat cubbies and “Ye Old One Stop Lolly Pop Shop” that provides a window into a classroom.

The infants and toddlers go to school in the “City Park” wing, a virtual forest with murals populated by exotic creatures like tigers and zebras. The walls of an indoor play area feature giant but friendly dinosaurs.

Outdoors are age-appropriate playgrounds for each group. Even the crawlers have their own playground, separate from the others, with artificial turf and with a removable hot-weather shade structure.

In between the two wings is the children’s chapel, which suggests one of the reasons this preschool is a bit different.

Another tradition that made the move from Peachtree Presbyterian Church to the new location is the Christian-based programs that start with the infants in the form of songs and stories. The preschoolers have their own Bible study program. Everybody goes to chapel and is taught to live by the Golden Rule.

In other words,” says Wakefield, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The school welcomes children of all faiths, with the understanding that everyone participates in all the programs.

The Chastain School is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Student-teacher ratios range from 4:1 in the infant rooms to 9:1 in the preschool rooms. Current enrollment is 120, with room for 258. To encourage continuity and prevent disruptions, infant classes open to new enrollment in August and January.