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Massena Nursery School struggling to keep doors open


MASSENA - Since the inception of a pre-kindergarten program at Massena Central School, enrollment at the Massena Nursery School has declined, and the school now finds itself in jeopardy of not being able to open its doors for the start of another school year.

“We’re 90 percent certain that we’ll be able to do at least one more year,” nursery school board President Mollie M. Ledbetter said, adding after that the future after that is uncertain.

“Our enrollment is so low that right now tuition isn’t even enough to pay the staff,” she said.

Director Deborah T. Long said the school’s problems began when Massena Central School started its UPK program.

“From that point on we just dropped,” she said.

According to enrollment figures provided by Ms. Long, the school had 130 students during the 2007-2008 school year. The following year when Massena began its pre-kindergarten program they had 88 students.

Ms. Long explained that for the first year the district’s pre-kindergarten program was a full-day program and not able to accommodate the number of students it can today.

The following year, when the district cut prekindergarten down to half a day, the school’s enrollment dropped all the way down to 41 students and has been somewhere between 41 and 53 students ever since.

This year, Ms. Long said the school has 46 students, but only 10 enrolled in the four-year-old class.

“Massena Nursery School opened in 1959 and it was a thriving program until the UPK program started,” Ms. Ledbetter said. “Our concern is that since UPK is funded through a grant, if the grant is pulled and we close, there would be no pre-school program up here, except for Head Start.”

Head Start is also an income-based program meaning many students would not qualify to attend and be left with no options for pre-school.

Ms. Long explained that the Massena Nursery School currently has two, three-year-old classrooms and one four-year-old classroom. Three-year-olds are not eligible to attend UPK and even Head Start’s classroom program is geared toward four year olds, although they do offer in-house, one-on-one services for some three-year-old students.

“Being the only three-year-old program in the area, we get children from all over,” Ms. Long said, noting this year they have students from Waddington, Norfolk and North Lawrence.

“We have highly qualified instructors for the three-year-old program, which allows the children to learn through literacy,” Ms. Long said, adding each day’s activities are centered around a book for the day.

That program also helps to prepare students for school.

“We actually teach school. We teach them how to listen, how to share and even how to line-up,” Ms. Long said.

Those are skills that Ms. Ledbetter said gives graduates of Massena Nursery School an advantage over students who may be entering school without attending pre-school.

“Think about how far ahead your children are academically speaking if they already have those skills,” she said. “At that young age, they learn so much more in a group. You need to have someone to share with to learn sharing.”

As for the four-year-old program, Ms. Long said they follow the same curriculum as the state-funded UPK programs that are offered in area public school districts.

“Our pre-k program is exactly like Massena Central’s, only we’re a smaller school with smaller classrooms,” Ms. Long said. “She (four-year-old teacher Heidi French) follows that curriculum so closely. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback from children going to Massena for their kindergarten screening.”

Ms. Ledbetter also noted Massena Nursery School is able to offer a friendly environment that almost feels like a family, more than a school.

“Our teachers love it here and our children love it here too,” she said. “There’s a lot to be said about the small family atmosphere here. My son still talks about it and now he’s five. That’s two years later.”

Vice President Renee M. Barto said closing the school is something that no one wants to do.

“What we’re trying to do is make the public aware that we need good enrollment and a good turnout at out Kids Fest,” she said. “That’s a big fundraiser for us.”

Kids Fest is an annual children’s carnival that will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 12 at J.W. Leary Middle School in Massena.

“It’s an indoor carnival for children ages 3 to 10,” Ms. Long said. “The kids love it.”

Ms. Barto added, “We have food, games, face painting, bounce houses and prizes. They’re nice prizes too.”

The prizes though aren’t just for children with drawings for adult prizes as well.

“Many local businesses generously donate towards the event to help make it a success,” Mr. Barto said, to which Ms. Ledbetter added, “It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year. We really depend on that.”

To help further spread the word, the school will have a float in next week’s Winter Carnival parade. Their float will also have the honor of carrying this year’s king and queen, along with a prince and princess randomly selected from the school.

Registration will begin following the school’s March 6 open house. That open house will be held from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the school, which is housed at the New Testament Church. A second open house will also be held sometime in August with registration remaining open through Jan. 31.

“We follow Massena Central’s schedule, but we have an open enrollment until Jan. 31, based on age and potty training,” Ms. Long said.

While the school is housed at New Testament Church, it has no affiliation with the church, which Ms. Long says has been a great place to call home.

“They’re very nice to us and treat us like royalty,” she said.

For three year olds, who are taught by either Jennifer Earl or Shauna DuBray, the school offers two- and three-day options, with classes on either Tuesday and Thursday or Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Four year olds are offered a five-day program with all classes lasting from 9 to 11:30 a.m.

The two day option is $94 per month, while the three day option is $116 per month. The five days a week option is $150 per month, with a multiple child discount available.

“I realize their program is free, but for me this is worth it,” Ms. Ledbetter said, adding she attended the school when she was a young girl and now her children have attended the school too.

Ms. Barto said there has been several multi-generational families to attend the school and that’s a part of the school’s legacy they want to hold onto.

“That’s not something we want to lose,” she said.

“My children went here and my grandchildren went here. We’re proud of that,” said Ms. Long, who will be retiring for personal reasons at the end of the year.

To help ease the transition though, Ms. Long said she will be staying around as a board member.

“I’ll be an active board member,” she said.

For more information about the Massena Nursery School, call 769-5775 or e-mail Ms. Long at The school may also be found on Facebook by searching for Massena Nursery School.

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