Progress made with play-based preschool

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Thursday, May 5, 2016 9:50pm
  • News

Enrollment for next fall is now open for the Nikiski community’s newest preschool.

Parents forming the play-based cooperative have secured space for a nursery and toddler room at Nikiski’s Church of the Nazarene and will be taking up to 12 students in both the 2-year-old and 3- to 5-year-old programs.

“At this time, everything depends on getting children enrolled,” said Katy Bethune, who taught in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District as a Title 1 and early intervention specialist teacher for 17 years and is the head organizer for the group. “If we do not get at least 10 students in our 3-5 class, we will not be able to make the preschool cover its costs.”

There are currently nine open slots in the 3- to 5-year-old program and five in the 2-year-old program, she said.

Nikiski North Star Elementary School Principal Margaret Gilman said she sees a need in the community for the new preschool.

“I’ve met with the cooperative preschool and we work well together,” Gilman said. “Our Title 1 PreK is limited to only 20 slots so there is typically a waiting list throughout the year.The other thing is their program includes 3-year-olds as well.”

Bethune said she settled on operating a play-based school because it teaches children to learn creatively, which is more likely to keep them interested in academics in the long run. She chose a cooperative model to keep costs affordable and so parents can be directly involved in their child’s education and development by having a say in what and how they learn.

The parents are currently in the middle of applying for a license and waiting on inspections from the state’s Alaska Child Care Program office, which Bethune expects will go fairly smoothly.

“All pre-elementary programs, whether private or public must be licensed by the state of Alaska or they are operating illegally,” Bethune said. “This ensures that proper standards of health and safety are followed, which include background checks.”

The church previously used the two rooms that will be rented out for the play-based school as a preschool and daycare and have been recently remodeled, and was also previously licensed by the state, she said.

“The nursery is fully furnished with toys, books and a climbing slide,” Bethune said. “The toddler room will have areas for building toys, art, dramatic play, science activities, a book-literacy area and group area. There is a large fenced playground just outside of the rooms, which will provide great space to play outside, with swings, a fort and a climbing toy.”

The group will meet in May to tour the space and approve a charter and bylaws, Bethune said.

“The bylaws were the first document we created for the preschool and are standard for the operation of a cooperative,” Bethune said. “They include how the cooperative is structured, how membership works, how the board of directors operates, staffing, etc.  We also have a parent handbook which further explains the operational policies and procedures of our preschool. We hope to create a website at some point to have these available to the public.”

The group will be meeting over the summer to purchase “materials, furnishings and supplies needed for the school” and hash out business-related details, she said. Dates for meetings have not yet been determined.

“We are looking for parents who want to be involved in their child’s preschool experience and who want to make friends with parents who feel the same,” Bethune said. “We plan to continue to get together over the summer with our cooperative parent group, meeting at the park or homes to let the kids play and to do some fun messy activities.”

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