The new Riverside Public School will be home to not just the Elmira Children’s Centre, but also the Elmira Community Nursery School when the new school opens in September 2016.The two programs have shared the building on Mockingbird Drive for 41 years. And they’ve had a good relationship, which they’re looking to continue in a new facility.
Diane Martin, supervisor of the nursery school, says when they started talking about the new school four years ago it became clear they’d be going too. They’ve known for sure since last fall. The plan is to rent a room in the building, just as they do now.
“I think it’s good that we offer two different programs for families,” Martin said. “We’re strictly a half-day program, they’re a full-day program. So we’re catering to the different needs of the families. It’s been awesome for us because the facility, it’s geared to the kids. We have use of their playgrounds, which are lovely too.”
The nursery school is a cooperative, which means parents participate with the class. This helps cut down on expenses because they act as assistants to Martin, and they bring snacks for the group. It works out to one class a month for each of the participating parents. Parents who can’t do it because of work pay an additional fee to cover the cost of hiring someone for that day.
“We’ll be on the second floor. The rest of the centre will be on the main floor and we’ll rent a room upstairs, which will be lovely because it’ll have nice, big windows,” Martin said. “I think we’re going to be looking out toward William Street. We’ll have our own room and storage right in the building. That’ll be nice. We don’t have very much storage space here.”
Their license will stay the same, so they’ll still have the class sizes they do now, which is a maximum of 16 children in their preschool classes, and up to 10 in their under-two-year-old groups. They had full classes this year, but she said it varies from year to year, given the birth rate.
“Our fall is getting full, but we still certainly have spots in our Tuesday, Thursday class for preschoolers and I think Friday morning we have spots for the turning two-year olds,” Martin said.
One thing that may change is access to a playground. The children’s centre will have their own playground, but because their numbers are expected to increase it’s uncertain if they’ll be enough space for the nursery school kids to use it during the morning, when they’re at the school.
“A lot of people were very disappointed when they heard that’s maybe not going to happen, but I said ‘we were hardly outside all winter. It was too cold to be outside.’ So it’s disappointing, but we managed to fill the time, we did extra gross motor activities when we didn’t get outside,” Martin said.
She notes they’re only there for two and a half hours, which leaves plenty of time in the day to get outside. Children who live close will hopefully be able to walk to the school when it’s nice out, too. Parents have been mostly positive about the move.
“They’re nervously excited, as I am,” Martin said. “They’re worried about money, of course. We’re operated by a parent board of directors. But there are worries about additional expenses we might have when we move. They’re excited about a new facility.”
Martin says there have been plenty of changes at the centre and the demographics who send their children there. There was a time when all the children there had stay-at-home moms, where now about a third of their moms work part-time, if not full-time.
“The needs of the kids have changed somewhat, and yet there’s the still basic wanting to be loved,” Martin said. “They just love when I sing silly songs to them or dance. They still love the basics. Certainly technology, we purchased an iPad last year for photos and the kids know how to operate it better than I know how to operate it.”
The iPad is the only real piece of technology they use at the nursery school, preferring to stick to the traditional methods of play, like water tables, play doh, and art easels.
Choosing to send their children to a nursery school a couple times a week started with the desire to offer them some enrichment, and the opportunity to interact with other children their age. But since then, it’s turned into much more than that. For many parents it’s become a way to meet other families in town and talk about shared experiences with their children.
“A lot of people that had their kids come through years ago are now still friends with different groups of people,” Martin said. “That’s an interesting bonus of the parents that they are forming friendships, as well as their kids forming friendships. Every year around the spring I’ll have parents say to me ‘oh the ones that came to nursery school together are graduating high school together this year too.’ That kind of brings a tear to my eye when that happens.”
A group of women who were all involved with the nursery school 21 years ago formed a book club that year and still continue it to this day.
In her 31 years at the nursery school, Martin’s seen kids come through the school, grow up and bring their own kids to the nursery school. She’s hoping that tradition continues in their new space at Riverside.
“I always say that’s a compliment because obviously if they had a good experience and good memories then they want their child to have that same type of experience too.”