Jan. 10, 2017 — After a year of construction, Northfield Mount Hermon opened the doors of its new Bolger Center for Early Childhood Education during the first week of January.
“It’s incredible,” raves Carol Kennedy, the director of the center. The bright, spacious 5,630-square-foot facility, located in the southeastern corner of campus, replaces the nursery school that has operated for decades on NMH’s former Northfield campus, five miles away. The program remained in Northfield even after NMH consolidated on the Mount Hermon campus in 2005.
The plan for a new center began in 2014 with a lead gift from David F. Bolger ’50. A $10,000 matching challenge from Head of School Peter Fayroian and contributions from alumni, parents, and friends of NMH also helped make the dream reality.
The difference between the old and new facilities is like night and day, according to Kennedy, who has headed the program since 2010. For the past few years, the nursery school classrooms had to be housed in two separate buildings as enrollment grew. “We were going back and forth all the time,” Kennedy says. The rooms didn’t suit children well, and linoleum repaired with duct-tape have been replaced by large classrooms with windows facing the Connecticut River, ample office and storage space, and a radiant heat system. “We’re down on the floor a lot,” Kennedy says.
The new center, painted red, white, and yellow, includes a 2,700-square-foot playground. Inside, a long, central corridor — just right for tricycles to whiz up and down, notes Kennedy — connects the classrooms where Kennedy and seven teachers lead programs for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, with 38 children ranging in age from 3 months to 5 years currently enrolled. The center, which serves families in surrounding towns as well as NMH employees, has a capacity of 45.
In the preschool classroom, students are pleased but matter-of-fact about the new space. “We used to have rectangle lights, and now we have square lights,” observes Abby, 5, pointing to the ceiling. Sitting around the snack table, everyone agrees that they miss the tire swing at the Northfield school, but they applaud the facts that their new classroom has two sinks in the bathroom instead of one, as well as a stage for impromptu performances.
NMH has offered some form of early childhood program for faculty and staff since at least 1947, when such programs were comparatively rare. Today, they’re more important than ever, according to Head of School Peter Fayroian, who says that “access to high-quality child care is essential to attract and retain skilled teachers and staff with young children.”
Sarah Warren, NMH’s academic dean and a teacher in the religious studies and philosophy department, says she likes the fact that all the children are in one building together, and that she can walk to pick up and drop off her 1-year-old son. “Symbolically, I appreciate that they’re here with us on campus,” she says. “It reinforces that we’re really a community.”
The transition to the new facility was “surprisingly smooth,” Kennedy says. She and her colleagues are looking forward to connecting their young charges with the NMH campus community by taking the children on walks to the NMH farm and inviting NMH students to volunteer in the toddler and preschool classrooms. NMH students will be able to do their workjobs in the center starting in March.
Meanwhile, the center’s preschool denizens are embracing their new space, taking to the stage with musical instruments, and organizing all the pens, pencils, and markers by color. With snacktime over, they prepare to don snow pants and parkas to go out to the playground, where, Abby points out, “the new swings aren’t up yet, but they’re coming.”