Community preschool finds new life
The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Welcoming spring: Renée Crisafulli, left, teacher at the Voorheesville Community Preschool, and student Emma Samson arrange flowers for a centerpiece to be used at the church’s free Tuesday lunches. The preschool is holding an open house on Sunday, April 27, from 1 to 3 p.m.
VOORHEESVILLE — Declining enrollment in the Voorheesville Community Preschool could signal the end of the longtime program in the village, but a new teacher — and an open house April 27 — may turn enrollment around.
“I love preschool. It’s the best,” said teacher Renée Crisafulli, who started in December. Crisafulli ran her own preschool elsewhere before signing on with the Voorheesville Community Preschool, which is housed in the First United Methodist Church of Voorheesville.
During the open house, “everybody and anybody” who is curious about the preschool is welcome to visit, Crisafulli said.
“I would love for people to stop in,” she said.
Children attend the school two or three mornings per week, depending on their ages, she said.
“We just hatched nine baby chickens and sent them off to the farm to live,” Crisafulli said. The children named each chick, and gave them birth certificates, she said.
Bonnie Draisey, or Mrs. D., helps in the classroom and has been with the classes since before Crisafulli started, Crisafulli said.
“Thank goodness she was!” Crisafulli said. Draisey helped ease the transition between teachers for the students, and continued the classroom routines, Crisafulli said.
Current enrollment in the school is 20 children, but the classes are only two-thirds full, she said. This semester, there are 12 four-year-olds and only eight 3-year-olds, she said.
According to Janelle Lyons, the church liaison with the preschool, the school was founded in 1965 to meet a community need.
At one time, the school was so popular, a lottery system was needed to handle enrollment. Now, said Jerry Flewelling of the Methodist Church, the preschool population in Voorheesville continues to drop.
“Last year, we eliminated the afternoon class,” he said. The school could not afford to continue to offer it, he explained.
Asked if the school will close entirely if enrollment does not increase, he said, “This is our fear; if we don’t have [more], yes, it would have to.” The push for enrollment at the open house is “not to expand it, but to keep it viable,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know we exist.”
The preschool is a not-for-profit cooperative where parents volunteer, and it is the only non-day care preschool in Voorheesville, he said.
“Concerns have been voiced about the continuation of the school,” Lyons wrote in the “Churchmouse Extra,” an edition of the church’s newsletter. “We are currently assessing the transition, and gathering information from parents to predict what enrollment will look like for next year.”
Flewelling said that the preschool is non-denominational and self-supporting; the school rents space from the church, and reimburses the church for the teacher’s and aid’s salaries. The church maintains the building and plows snow, he said. The school has no religious connection, he said, with neither classes nor prayers.
While the church considers the preschool as a community ministry, the church cannot pay for the school, Flewelling said, because the school is not part of the church’s acknowledged responsibility. The preschool must have a minimum number of students to pay for itself, he said. With Crisafulli’s new approach, the school may find enough students for next fall.
With the exit of the previous teacher mid-semester and Crisafulli’s experience and availability, “We grabbed her!” Flewelling said. “This woman has put all new life in there. We’re really enthused.”
Parents must participate as additional teacher aids, with playground cleanup, or with fund-raising, he said.
“They don’t pay the tuition they would elsewhere. The cost is kept down,” he said. “It’s not a babysitter for working parents.” The tuition for 3-year-olds who go to the school on Tuesday and Thursday mornings is $95 per month while the tuition for 4-year-olds who attend on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings is $120.
Flewelling said that, when his own children were young, they played in the neighborhood rather than attending a nursery school. Now, he said, times are different and children do a lot in the school.
“I’m amazed how much they learn,” he said, after observing the chick-hatching project in the classroom.
The Voorheesville Community Preschool will hold an open house Sunday, April 27, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The preschool is located at the First United Methodist Church of Voorheesville, at 68 Maple Ave. The school's website is www.vcpreschool.org.