VPR News
12:05 am
Thu November 14, 2013

Pittsford Debates Best Place For Preschoolers To Learn

In Pittsford, some worry that pre-schoolers in their town will lose out if their existing pre-kindergarten program is moved into the local elementary school. Proponents say the move will centralize resources and save money.

But others, like Pittsford resident Stacey Pearsons, argue it will spell the end for a unique learning program. 

Pearsons says the town is incredibly lucky to have a preschool set on more than 45 acres of woodlands. “So you walk up to this little quaint, cedar shingled building," says Pearsons, "And it's all for these little kids and it's nestled in the woods. You feel like you’re going home when you’re going to school.”

The mother of two says that inside, the classroom space is amazingly bright and cheery. “They have a loft where they can do science experiments and see what happens when things fall.  I call it preschool utopia,” says Pearsons. “Why destroy that?”

"So you walk up to this little quaint, cedar shingled building ... You feel like you're going home when you're going to school. I call it preschool utopia. Why destroy that?" - Stacey Pearsons

Several years ago, teachers at Caverly began to use the extensive network of nearby trails as an outdoor classroom. Fridays have become known as “hike-days” at the preschool and the teachers and kids spend nearly all day outdoors. 

Stacey Pearsons says it’s a great way to get children more active and aware of their natural environment. “I learn so much from my son because of this program,” she says.  “The caddis flies ... He’ll pick up a leaf at four years old and say ‘Hey, this is an oak leaf,’ and I’ll say, 'Uh-huh, it is.'  And they’re getting the experience of playing outside and hiking. They get to experience nature,” says Pearsons.  “For a lot of kids this is the only experience they get.”

Pearsons and other parents worry the program will be too difficult to run if it’s moved to Lothrop Elementary school, which is in a much busier part of town.

But John Castle, superintendent of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, disagrees. He says students and teachers will just have to access the trails differently. 

And he says having the pre-K program within the elementary school means three- and four-year-olds will be able to use the school’s library, gymnasium, art and music programs.  “From our perspective, it’s an asset that the students would be in the building,” says Castle.  “There are some opportunities for continuity between the early education programs and the kindergarten programs. There’s a chance for coordination with those teachers, a chance for those students to work together.”  

He and some parents believe centralizing staff would also provide more backup in case of emergency.

And with the cost of education rising,  Castle says the move makes sense economically.

"From our perspective, it’s an asset that the students would be in the building ... There’s a chance for coordination with those teachers, a chance for those students to work together.” - John Castle, Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent

The current preschool building was built around 1920. A committee formed to assess the pros and cons of relocating the pre-K program believes needed repairs will cost between $30,000 and $60,000.

Castle says, “I think one of the real concerns is if we’re making investments in Caverly that potentially is at the cost of investing in programs and services and facilities in the Lothrop building.”

But committee member and preschool parent Charity Eugaire says she’s troubled that so much emphasis has been put on cost. “There was very, very little effort put toward the topics of what is best for the children beyond simply putting them in the same box as everyone else.”

The Pittsford School board has the final say on the matter and their chairperson said it would be improper to comment before they’ve heard all the facts.  They’re meeting tonight and will likely make a decision by January.