Just a few years ago, several island preschools were serving fewer children than in years past, but preschools appear to be flourishing again, with three new schools set to open this fall and three others reporting significant changes.
While there are no hard facts about whether Vashon’s demographics are changing, anecdotally, some say that the island is seeing an influx of families with young children, possibly the result of the strengthening economy.
For years, the island has had a variety of preschools to fit individual needs of families, and now the options have expanded and include several more possibilities, ranging from one set on a farm to a free, bilingual program funded by the state for children in need.
In the Gold Beach neighborhood, Honeybee Playschool will open its morning preschool on Sept. 9 with teacher Anna Sander. Sander, who grew up on the island, attended The Barbie School as a child. Zoe Cheroke, the head of that school for 39 years, retired earlier this year and mentored Sander as she prepared to open her own school. The timing was not coincidental, Sander said, as she and Cheroke have talked about Sander opening a school for some time, and Cheroke encouraged her to begin now.
“This is really my passion, and I am excited to get started,” Sander said. “I get a little teary learning from my own preschool teacher about how to do it. It feels a bit magical.”
The school will serve six children ages 4 and 5, and already four are enrolled in the program, which will meet two mornings a week in the daylight basement of a Gold Beach home that was a preschool years ago, Sander said.
Children will learn about math, science and other academics through play, Sander said, with a large arts component as well.
Sander’s background includes degrees in elementary and arts education and experience running the Seattle Children’s Museum’s after-school art program, writing an arts curriculum and facilitating art classes for children with disabilities.
Now a mother of two children, she graduated from Vashon High School in 1996 and returned to raise her family on the island after being gone for 13 years.
“I always knew I wanted to come back,” she said.
At the north end of the island, Lisa Moe will open Little Islanders for children ages 2 to 5 in the middle of September.
Moe is certified as a paraeducator and was close to completing a degree in early education when she stepped away to raise her children. She has considerable experience with young children, having served as a nanny for 15 years. She was also as staff member at Mossy Rock Preschool, which closed several years ago, and more recently at the Klahanie School. Opening her own preschool has been a long-term dream, she said.
The school, located in the daylight basement of her home on Vashon Highway, will be open five mornings a week. She plans to draw from several teaching modalities, she said, and days will include free and structured play, circle time and plenty of time outside.
“I am big about the outdoors,” she said. “I think it is super important for kids to learn how to play outside without electronics and tablets.”
By next year, Moe said, she would like to be a licensed daycare provider because there are so few on the island. Licensed daycares can legally care for children for full days, unlike preschools.
In recent years, she has talked to many families with young children who are new to Vashon and have found the child care options lacking. “A lot have been shocked at the lack of all-day care on the island,” she said.
The process to become licensed can be arduous and expensive, Moe noted, but she is working toward licensure as her goal.
“People need it. That’s what they want,” she said. “I am hoping there will be a niche out there for that.”
In October or November, the Vashon Island School District will open a free preschool, taught in English and Spanish, for children from low-income families. The program, likely to be called La Escuelita, is funded by the state as an Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, according to Roxanne Lyons, the district’s curriculum director. She wrote the grant for the program several months ago and called the process “crazy competitive.” The district learned this summer that it will receive the funds, news that was met with excitement.
“We were dancing in the streets,” she said.
Lyons called preschool a game-changer for students’ educational careers and said she is happy it will now be available to some families who could not otherwise afford it.
“We would expect different outcomes grade after grade after grade from kids who had the opportunity to go to preschool,” she said.
The program will likely meet at Chautauqua and be full days Tuesday through Friday. In addition to the free schooling and lunch, students will receive free medical and dental care and visual screenings, and families will receive support if a crisis arises.
The state has guidelines for who is eligible for the preschool, Lyons said, and she encourages low-income families and parents of foster children to inquire about possible enrollment.
The district is looking to hire one teacher for the program and has already hired an assistant teacher, Lilia Longworth, who is from Colombia and worked at Chautauqua last year as an Americorps volunteer.
The district and community partners have been conducting outreach this summer for the program, which will likely start out with about 14 children and perhaps grow as high as 24, Lyons said.
Heartstone Preschool has been on Vashon for more than a decade, but last year underwent a large transformation, moving from Vashon Cohousing under the direction of Heather Carrie to Plum Forest Farm with teacher — and farmer — Joanne Jewell at the helm.
Under Carrie, the school was based on the Waldorf curriculum, which is nature-oriented, Jewell said. That outdoor emphasis is stronger than ever, she said, as the students spend from 9:30 a.m. to noon outside. For Jewell, who served as an assistant at the school several years ago and also teaches at the Vashon Wilderness Program, this emphasis is important.
“They learn how they are warm and safe and happy outside,” she said.
In the coldest months, the children spend time in the farm’s large greenhouse, gardening in the winter. Other activities include singing, baking and sharing a meal together. The school meets just two days a week.
Eleven students ages 3 to 6 are already enrolled for the fall, and there is possibly room for one more older child, Jewell said. Fellow teachers are Mary Lawrence and Linda Moore.
Before Carrie moved to California, she approached Jewell about taking over the school.
“If they could move it to our farm, that would be ideal for me,” Jewell said she recalled thinking. “I have always felt that our farm was a place that needed to be shared.”
La Petite Etoile
Going into its ninth year, French preschool La Petite Etoile will be run by a new teacher this year, Coco Banks. Banks is a native French speaker who is Kenyan and Swiss, and she recently moved to the island with her family from Johannesburg, South Africa.
Aristy Gill, who owns the school for children age 2 through kindergarten and has been the primary teacher since opening it, will teach second grade at Chautauqua Elementary School this year.
Moving to Vashon was three years in the making for her family, Banks said recently, and was inspired by an article about the island in Sunset magazine.
In Johannesburg, Banks taught at a French school, and she also has experience teaching children with autism and special needs. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Before she and her family — a husband who works for the Red Cross and two young children — moved to the United States, Banks said she sent her resume to island preschools. For Gill, who was hoping to get back into the public school system, Banks’ availability and expertise could not have been more timely.
“It nearly felt like a miracle to fall into place with Coco,” Gill said.
At the school, which meets at Bethel Church three mornings a week, Banks said kids will enjoy play, cooking, getting dirty and a variety of the arts — all in French. She will also bring her experience and international influence to the school, and will have two assistants, Tina Parrish and Mariette Spence.
Preschools in France are funded by the government, Gill noted, and all children attend. The curriculum is well developed, and all schools follow it.
Banks will bring that knowledge with her, Gill said, as well as a variety of educational approaches from other countries.
“It’s going to be a special experience for the Vashon kids who attend,” she said.
Twelve students can attend La Petite Etoile; there is currently one opening.
Vashon Maury Cooperative Preschool
Earlier this summer, the Vashon Maury Cooperative Preschool moved from the Vashon PlaySpace to the former courtroom at Courthouse Square. At the time, Tami Brockway Joyce, former president of the board, said the space was perfect for the school, with a wall of windows, space for a new playground, which has recently been added, raised garden beds and an area for bike and scooter riding.
The preschool, the oldest on the island, has four separate classes for children, depending on their age, ranging from toddlers to age 5. The schedule varies from class to class.
A second classroom has been designated just for toddlers, and new this year is a weekly drop-off play time for co-op families.
Honeybee Playschool: Honeybeeplayschool.wordpress.com
Little Islanders: 463-9797 or email@example.com
La Escuelita: Lori Means at 406-6208 or firstname.lastname@example.org (English speakers), Sally Adam 218-9545 or email@example.com (Spanish speakers)
Heartstone Preschool: www.plumforestfarm.com/heartstone-preschool
La Petite Etoile: www.vashonfrenchschool.blogspot.com
Vashon Maury Cooperative Preschool: www.vmcp.org
For more information about island preschools, stop by The Beachcomber office for the spring issue of Island Child or find it online at the Beachcomber website under the “Green Editions” tab.