Scut­tled by pre-pri­mary pro­gram

Kentville’s Wee Folk Kinder­garten to close af­ter 49 years

Annapolis Valley Register - - FRONT PAGE - BY IAN FAIRCLOUGH SALTWIRE NET­WORK KENTVILLE, N.S. A5

Af­ter 49 years and more than 1,200 chil­dren, a pop­u­lar kinder­garten in Kentville is clos­ing next month.

Wee Folk Kinder­garten will close Nov. 2 be­cause of de­clin­ing en­rol­ment.

Leslie Camp­bell said she had been ex­pect­ing the provin­cial Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment’s provincewide pre-pri­mary pro­gram to have a neg­a­tive ef­fect this year. Early en­rol­ment num­bers seemed OK but as more peo­ple with­drew, she and her cousin, long­time teacher Mary Lee Beach, re­al­ized it was time to close.

Camp­bell said num­bers had al­ready been slowly de­clin­ing in re­cent years as more and more par­ents were look­ing for all-day child care as op­posed to a half­day preschool two or three days a week. But the pre-pri­mary pro­gram was the fi­nal nail.

Her mother, Dorothy Camp­bell, was work­ing as a Grade Pri­mary teacher at Kings County Academy in Kentville in 1969 when she de­cided to start Wee Folk. It grew from 24 stu­dents that year up to 60 in two age lev­els.

In the past few years that dropped to 44, and then 24 this year.

That just isn’t enough to pay li­cens­ing, taxes, and the oper­a­tional costs.

“It was a hard re­al­iza­tion to come to,” Leslie said. “If it was a one-year blip and I thought the next year would be bet­ter, we would try to get through it ... but with the drop over the past five years, I don’t see that turn­ing around.”

Keep­ing her mother’s legacy alive

Af­ter her mother died 15 years ago, Leslie kept the preschool open. She looked af­ter the ad­min­is­tra­tion while work­ing at her reg­u­lar job, and Beach — her cousin — ran the classes.

When Dorothy started Wee Folk, Leslie was only three years old.

“I think part of it was she wanted to stay home with me and have a chance to work out of her own house, and she was fo­cused on prepri­mary. She loved lit­tle chil­dren,” Leslie said.

But, she was also see­ing some chil­dren go­ing into her Grade Pri­mary classes who just weren’t ready for school.

“I think she was frus­trated a lit­tle bit by some of the cur­ricu­lum, and she wanted to do her own thing, fo­cus on preschool and give the kids the best pos­si­ble start that she could,” Leslie said. “And she was good at it, she re­ally was. Her pro­grams worked, she seemed to be able to bring out the best in the kids that were here.”

Some­times too much so, in fact. One year, the school board con­tacted Dorothy.

“The is­sue was that the chil­dren com­ing into pri­mary at KCA from Wee Folk were fur­ther ahead, and they ac­tu­ally told her to stop teach­ing the chil­dren,” Leslie said.

Her mother ig­nored the re­quest. “She said, ‘that’s not my prob- lem. You need to change what you’re do­ing. I’m not chang­ing what I’m do­ing,’” said Leslie.

Beach said she had al­ways wanted to teach chil­dren, and started work­ing for her aunt Dorothy in 1985 af­ter fin­ish­ing univer­sity.

“It’s been fun. It’s been in­ter­est­ing to see the kids learn and grow, and to see them years later,” she said, adding she could see this day com­ing, “but I didn’t an­tic­i­pate that it would be this soon.”

She plans to op­er­ate a small day­care in the space af­ter Wee Folk closes.

Res­i­dents sad­dened

by clo­sure

Amelia Crouse-Schofield has a son and daugh­ter at Wee Folk. Her son has autism, and “with them clos­ing, us find­ing a new spot for him is a chal­lenge,” she said.

“We did find other spots, but un­for­tu­nately it’s go­ing to cost us a lot more fi­nan­cially. We’re look­ing at prob­a­bly an­other $150 a month for our fam­ily,” she said.

She said she has al­ways been happy with the pro­gram and the sup­port of Beach and the staff for her son and his needs.

Kentville town Coun. Craig Ger­rard and his sib­lings at­tended Wee Folk, and he later sent his own chil­dren there. He said the clos­ing is “ter­ri­bly sad news.”

Leslie said there have been many mes­sages of sup­port since she an­nounced the clos­ing.

“The com­ments peo­ple have made have been pretty heart­warm­ing,” she said. “It’s nice to know that we did have a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence on the chil­dren of the com­mu­nity. The out­pour­ing of shock and sad­ness and the shar­ing of mem­o­ries has been pretty spe­cial.”

IAN FAIRCLOUGH/SALTWIRE NET­WORK

Emer­syn Brown looks through a mag­ni­fy­ing glass at Wee Folk Kinder­garten in Kentville. The 49-year-old busi­ness is clos­ing next month be­cause of de­clin­ing en­rol­ment af­ter pre-pri­mary pro­grams were in­sti­tuted across the prov­ince.

IAN FAIRCLOUGH/SALTWIRE NET­WORK

Mary Lee Beach does puz­zles with stu­dents at Wee Folk Kinder­garten in Kentville. Wee Folk, which has seen more than 1,200 chil­dren pass through its doors, is clos­ing next month af­ter 49 years be­cause of de­clin­ing en­rol­ment.

IAN FAIRCLOUGH/SALTWIRE NET­WORK

Mary Lee Beach reads a book to stu­dents at Wee Folk Kinder­garten.

Pump­kin walk at­tracts thou­sands.

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