Private preschool notches record enrollment

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Dodging for dollars at Saturday’s Dodegeball Tournament fundraiser for the Early Shelter Island Early Childhood Learning Center.
BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Dodging for dollars at Saturday’s Dodegeball Tournament fundraiser for the Early Shelter Island Early Childhood Learning Center.

It’s been a couple of years ago since Shelter Island’s private preschool program at the Presbyterian Church was fighting for its life. Today it’s thriving.

Today’s Shelter Island Early Childhood Learning Center has 15 registered students — ages 2 and 3 — when they were once lucky enough to get a handful of students ages, 2, 3 and 4 in years past.

It took almost losing the school for some parents to realize the school’s importance to them plus  a change in the fundraising schedule, according to board member Kelly Surerus.
Saturday’s Dodgeball Tournament fundraiser brought in about $4,000 from both registrations and a related raffle, she added.

The budget will always be tight, she said, but the school is no longer operating in the red. She thinks the news will benefit not only the private program, but the Shelter Island School District as well.

Students starting at the Learning Center and having a good experience are more likely to transfer at age 4 to the district’s preschool program and stay on the Island instead of transferring to private schools on the South Fork, Ms. Surerus said.

Another reason for the school’s success has been the continued involvement of teacher Hannah Gray. Her determination has proven effective with the board members, Ms. Surerus said, her can-do attitude proving contagious.

Ms. Surerus noted that this year, Ms. Gray has redone the basement space where the preschool is held so that it’s more “ethereal” and not cluttered as it once was. She’s working this year with teacher Megan Michalak and the two have revitalized the program, Ms. Surerus said.

Each of the board members brings different skills to the forefront and that, too, is part of why the program that was almost extinct is now securely functioning.

Noting that Superintendent Christine Finn was at Saturday’s Dodgeball Tournament, she said she was pleased with the show of support and noted Ms. Finn called for a close working relationship with the Learning Center.

Ms. Finn confirmed her enthusiasm for the program, noting that since the district will eventually be enrolling its students once they’re 4-years old, she believes encouraging a close relationship is important.

From the time in 2016 when members of the Learning Center attended a Board of Education meeting to seek help, there has been an ongoing effort to find a way to both enhance the district’s own preschool program for 4-year-olds while supporting the private preschool.

At the outset, the decision by the district to expand its own preschool program might have threatened the Learning Center’s already meager enrollment. But it was just the opposite, Ms. Surerus said. Perhaps parents preferred having just 2- and 3-year olds at the Learning Center, she speculated. At the same time, she noted there have been parents asking why they have to send their children across the street to the district school when they are 4.

Whatever the reasons, Ms. Surerus said she’s relieved the Learning Center is operating on an even keel these days and optimistic about its future.