AMHERST – They call it ‘big school’. Preparing children for success at elementary school, in grade primary, is the goal of Amherst Pre-school, according to Estella Parry.
“Income is a big thing,” said the director of the program, which runs out of Hartz Hall, at Trinity-St. Stephen’s United Church, Amherst. The long-running school, which teaches four groups of 12 kids for two hours each day, was created in 1968 to provide a learning experience for children whose parents couldn’t afford other preschools. Although the school accepts children from all income brackets, those that can’t pay to attend elsewhere are still the priority.
Tuition is subsidized for those in need. The biggest contributor to the program is the United Way, while the Amherst Rotary Club has footed the bill for busing for a number of years (although busing has not begun yet this year due to increased rates and lack of available drivers). Also involved are the Lions club and church groups.
Parry called the two-hour sessions jam-packed. A schedule takes them through circle time and play time, snack time and quiet time, with 20 minutes typically allotted to each.
It’s a chance for children to develop social skills, get a taste of what’s coming in regular school, and also use materials they may not have access to at home.
Over the years she’s had students from difficult home circumstances. Parry didn’t go into much detail, but said one of the things the preschool can offer is a smiling face and a hug.
“[It] breaks my heart,” she said.
Parry sounds passionate about what she does. So does teacher Amanda Davis.
“I love it,” said Davis.
The teacher said she wonders who is learning more – her or the students.
The director said the pay is low: minimum wage to start, even though employees are required to have a two- or three-year post secondary education. But she said the profession is more fun than work.
“This isn’t a job,” said Parry.
The director said she’d love to win the lottery, but she’d be back to volunteer – after she completed a world tour.
This is the first installment in a weekly series profiling the United Way’s member agencies.