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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 26, 2009

A place where the sun can be purple
Altamont preschool makes changes to draw more kids of busy parents

By Philippa Stasiuk

ALTAMONT— This fall, Theresa Lasselle, the director and teacher of the Altamont Cooperative Preschool on Lincoln Avenue, will make changes to the cooperative program that she hopes will buffer the preschool against low enrollment caused by the economic downturn.

First, Lasselle and the mothers who run the cooperative school together will offer openings to children whose parents are unable to or don’t want to fulfill the volunteer portion of the program. Volunteering has traditionally been required of parents as part of the cooperative philosophy of the school. Parents sending their children to the Altamont preschool volunteer their time as teacher’s helpers in the classroom or by managing one or more of the school’s committees that work on things like fund-raising and providing food for snack time.

“We’re offering slots to people who want the option of non-cooperation in terms of helping in the classroom,” said Gini Iarusso, co-chair of the preschool’s board and mother of three, the youngest of whom will be beginning the Altamont preschool this fall. The fee for parents who choose not to volunteer at the school will be slightly higher than it would be for those who are volunteering, which for next year will be $80 a month for the class of 3-year-olds and $98 a month for the class of 4-year-olds.

The school will also be extending the time of the class for 3-year-olds on Tuesdays and Thursdays an extra half hour from 9 to 11:30 in the morning. “This should help people who live far away and for moms who are working part-time so that they can get work done,” said Lasselle. The Monday, Wednesday, Friday class for 4-year-olds already goes from 9 to 11:30 in the morning.

Although Voorheesville, a similar village in the neighboring town of New Scotland, also has a cooperative preschool, at the First United Methodist Church, Theresa Springer, a teacher at the school, said that, unlike at Altamont, her preschool does not expect a lack of enrollment for next fall. She said there are only three openings to fill for the fall classes. 

“Thank God we haven’t seen the effects of the economy yet. We’re fortunate to be in an area where there’s still a lot of stay-at-home moms and that’s to our benefit,” Springer said.

“Meant to be”

Mrs. Lasselle, as her kids call her, has been teaching for so long in the Altamont Reformed Church basement on Lincoln Avenue that her first class of preschoolers has already graduated from college. But her enthusiasm for her job seems to spring from a source that replenishes every morning for learning, snacks, and lots and lots of artwork. “We spend all our days here smiling and laughing, said Lasselle. “I replied two weeks late to the advertisement in The Enterprise in the fall of 1987 and they still gave me the job. It was meant to be.”

Although Lasselle describes the cooperative part of the preschool as parents getting to share in the privilege of being a child’s teacher together, she says that by offering slots without cooperative requirements, they are adapting to economic reality. “Economic pressure has pushed everyone to the brink and there are now more families with both parents working,” said Lasselle.

“Does a 3-year-old belong 8 to 10 hours a day out of the house? Can you honestly say yes?” she asked. “It’s not the parents’ choice but I’m so frightened that the economy is making us have choices that aren’t good for our kids.”

Lasselle sees the role of the Altamont preschool as a preparatory step on a child’s way to public school and is quick to point out that the preschool is neither childcare, nor a babysitter. Rather, she says, the Altamont preschool allows children to “grow socially in appropriate measures” and experience, explore, and process the world around them.

Lasselle is now preparing her children for the school’s newest arrival: butterfly eggs ordered from California, which the children will cultivate in their butterfly house until they’re hatched and grown. The preschoolers will then release them in the Maple Avenue park where a butterfly garden will soon be added to the landscaping.

Keith Lee of Altamont’s Parks Committee, and the mayor’s partner, will be leading the efforts to cultivate the butterfly garden and said that, like most of the park’s plantings, the material for the new garden will come from “the time-honored techniques of begging and borrowing.” Some of the plants Lee hopes to include in the garden will be Queen Anne’s lace, liatris, butterfly bushes, helenium, and cone flowers, to name a few.

 “Public school is more pointed,” said Lasselle. “Here, we can create and grow. There, they push government and state tests and they want them to do more at a younger age. They can push kids to learn state capitals but will they know what that means? They can force them to do books all day but will they love reading?”

Lasselle’s belief in the relationship between creativity and child development is apparent by the pride she takes in the children’s artwork. From the ceiling hang colorful mobiles and an intricate tree branch, which, in honor of spring’s arrival, bears clothespin birds made of fluffy balls and violently bright pink, red, and purple feathers.

Iarusso, who has been implementing the new changes into next year’s plans, remembers something Lasselle told the parents at a meeting to guide them in the school’s philosophy. She remembers Lasselle saying that, if their child made the sun purple, to leave it that way.

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