Preschoolers head to college

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Photo of preschool

From left, Emmett Bailey, Avery Parsons Early School teacher Laura Hart and Athena Hernandez at the Early School preschool at Colorado Mountain College Chaffee County at Buena Vista. CMC is providing some needed space for the Early School for its increasing student enrollment.

By Carrie Click

BUENA VISTA – Last spring, Avery Parsons Early School preschool had a wait list.

“We had a list of families desiring 3- to 5-year-old preschool that was beyond our capacity in our four classrooms at Avery Parsons,” said Lisa Yates, Buena Vista School District superintendent.

Not only were morning and afternoon sessions full, but more families were requesting full-day preschool for their children. On top of that, school district staff members were increasingly hearing from parents who wanted infant and toddler care.

Avery Parsons Elementary’s kindergarten and first-grade classes were also reaching capacity, so there wasn’t space in the building to spare. That’s when Yates and her Early School team started thinking outside the box – or rather, building – to meet those community needs.

Where there’s need, there’s space

Rachel Pokrandt is Colorado Mountain College vice president and campus dean for CMC Leadville and Chaffee County. She and Yates had talked on several occasions about ways the college and school district could form connections with local students of all ages.

With the elementary school running out of room, both realized the possibilities of the preschool utilizing part of the college’s building on County Road 319 in Buena Vista.

“The Early School has a need, and CMC has the space,” said Pokrandt. “Colorado Mountain College is a community college, and we strive to work closely with our community partners.”

The college and school district signed a one-year memorandum of understanding for the Early School’s additional site, which will be evaluated at the end of the school year. The school district built a small playground at the college campus with the help of Habitat for Humanity, and CMC is holding a science class at Buena Vista High School and another at McGinnis Middle School so students can access those schools’ science labs, something CMC Chaffee County doesn’t have.

“These are opportunities for each of these organizations individually, and more importantly, it strengthens our collaboration as organizations with shared services to students,” Yates said.

Youngest students

On Sept. 4, the smallest students yet to attend Colorado Mountain College in Buena Vista – two classes of full-day, 3- to 5-year-old preschoolers – arrived for their first day of school on a college campus.

Now, no one is on a wait list. With the older preschoolers attending Early School at CMC in Buena Vista, now there is space at the Avery Parson Early School for a toddler classroom, serving 10 families.

Early School staff – the director, family service staff, coordinator, special education teacher, teachers, paraprofessionals and home visiting staff – are splitting their time between CMC and Avery Parsons.

In the meantime, college classes will continue as usual at CMC Chaffee County.

“Our enrollment is up for this year, and there’s been no negative impact on our student numbers or the educational services we currently provide,” said Pokrandt. “All our college classes will continue as they have.

“We’re continuing to use our building for the highest and best use that supports this community,” she said. “Our role is to serve the community in any way we can.”