Scuttled by pre-primary program
Kentville’s Wee Folk Kindergarten to close after 49 years
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Mary Lee Beach reads a book to students at Wee Folk Kindergarten.
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