A rare and spe­cial learn­ing place is mov­ing

Beloved Dun­das preschool pre­pares to re­lo­cate

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JEFF MAHONEY jma­honey@thes­pec.com 905-526-3306

For those chil­dren and adults alike who have walked through the star­dust at St. Mark’s Preschool in Dun­das, the idea of mov­ing it, the whole en­chanted ex­pe­ri­ence of it, feels like more than a sim­ple re­lo­ca­tion.

It’s a dis­lo­ca­tion. Ac­tu­ally, it’s like a heart trans­plant.

The much-beloved fix­ture on the land­scape of lo­cal early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion, en­sconced for 55 years in the spa­cious, big-win­dowed, high­ceilinged base­ment of St. Mark’s Church (cor­ner of Creighton and Gover­nors Road), is leav­ing home.

The church, which has other plans for the space, gave no­tice last year, so Sue An­der­sen and the preschool are pack­ing up. In Septem­ber they’ll be at Yorkview Pub­lic School, as Dun­das Val­ley Co-op­er­a­tive Preschool.

My girls went there. I can see their preschool faces, cheeks glow­ing with ex­er­tion and glee, as they took part in the an­nual tri­cy­cle race out­side — if you let your­self, you could be­lieve you were in Monaco at the Grand Prix.

I can still pic­ture their minc­ing steps as they bal­anced cups on saucers and car­ried them to ta­bles, in cos­tume (from the pur­ple/yel­low wardrobe chest), at the Mother’s Day Tea.

There was pi­rate day, py­jama day and, of course, Mickey Mouse Disco — high­light of the year when strobe lights and mir­ror balls came out, mu­sic came on and par­ents, kids and teach­ers alike turned up, at night, to get down. We learned our best moves at St. Mark’s.

The preschool has al­ways been a tour de force of team­work but Sue, su­per­vi­sor/teacher, rep­re­sents the lead­er­ship and con­ti­nu­ity of the place, decade over decade — she ar­rived in 1981 — and gen­er­a­tion upon gen­er­a­tion.

I re­cently sat down with her and cur­rent preschool pres­i­dent Zoe Green. On the lit­tle chairs of course. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Sue sit in an adult chair.

“It’s hard,” she ad­mits, “a dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion. Look at this place.” She mo­tions at the size of it. The tall win­dows af­ford lav­ish help­ings of sun­light, great gulps of it. Cup­boards, cab­i­nets, chests and ta­bles, books, art sup­plies, play equip­ment, all the re­sources that have ac­crued to the place.

Ev­ery­thing a child could want. And that’s only the half of it. Al­ready much has been packed away. There’ll be a grand sale June 10 — in­clud­ing photo al­bums for alumni to pick through (tear­fully, I’m sure). No room for it all at Yorkview.

The new space, still in Dun­das, is smaller, says Zoe, whose two boys are at St. Mark’s. But they were glad to find it, with help of the school board and trustee Greg Van Gef­fen.

“We’re en­cour­aged by the re­sponse. They put a ban­ner up (at Yorkview), we’re get­ting in­quiries al­ready and are 50 per cent full for Septem­ber.”

The move isn’t the first chal­lenge for the preschool. Once kinder­garten

got funded in On­tario, years ago, preschool en­rol­ments tended to drop. It’s a strug­gle. There have been shifts in ped­a­gogy. Less plas­tic and pri­mary colours, more wood and home­like am­bi­ence. St. Mark’s, soon to be Dun­das Val­ley Co-op Preschool, has adapted.

There’s ever evolv­ing leg­is­la­tion: safety, lo­gis­tics, codes. Sue puts a huge binder on her lap. “This is the bible.” It’s all metic­u­lously or­ga­nized. That’s Sue. That’s the preschool she sym­bol­izes. A place of such friend­ships, adults and kids, forged over the years and loy­alty (the Goede boys, now in their teens, still help­ing set up and take down).

The win­dows at the new place, what­ever size, will be as big and light-filled as Sue and team make them with their imag­i­na­tions, the ceil­ings as high.

So this is not a good­bye but a house­warm­ing wish. And a thank you. But how do you thank some­one who has helped gar­den your chil­dren up from the ground, with such care, such sprin­kling, such light, such fun?

Well, as the song says, if she wanted the moon … but we’d rather give our hearts to her. To Sue … with love.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMILTON SPEC­TA­TOR

Su­per­vi­sor and teacher Sue An­der­sen helps Maleia Clark onto a climber at St. Mark’s Preschool in Dun­das. Af­ter 55 years at St. Mark’s Church, the preschool will op­er­ate from its new home in Yorkview Pub­lic School this au­tumn.

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