By JOHN FLOWERS
EAST MIDDLEBURY — Serena Eddy Moulton has fond memories of frolicking with other children in the huge yard at the Middlebury Cooperative Nursery School (MCNS) off East Main Street.
She would return to the MCNS in East Middlebury a few decades later as an adult to make some new memories, tending to the yard in which she once played while watching her own children learn and recreate there.
“One of the things that I loved most is you could invest time in the school in exchange for a reduction in tuition,” said Eddy Moulton, who served a stint as “director of maintenance” at the parent-run MCNS. “It was a completely worthwhile investment.”
Parents made such investments in the MCNS for more than 75 years, making it one of the longest running cooperative nursery schools in the state.
Nothing lasts forever, though. Faced with the ever-mounting challenges of running a cooperative nursery school — the declining population of preschool-age children, competition from other providers, and the increasing demands on parents’ time — the MCNS board recently approached the Mary Johnson Children’s Center about taking over the nursery school’s programming and building. Mary Johnson took over operation of the MCNS around a year-and-a-half ago and completed the transition a few months ago when it took on the $60,000 balance of the mortgage on the facility.
“It was a wonderful investment of time, but a large amount of work for the parents,” Eddy Moulton said of the MCNS. “By transferring the operation to an established, well-respected child care provider, we felt we were leaving it in good hands.”
Erica Garner, past chairwoman of the MCNS board, said it was during the 1930s — no one seems to know the exact date — that the spouses of several Middlebury College professors established the nursery school operation in the former East Middlebury schoolhouse. Parent volunteers would take on just about every facet of running the place, from cleaning the floors to implementing curriculum. They would also seek to purchase the building from the ID-4 school district. When it became clear around six years ago that the building needed to be enlarged, parents strapped on their tool belts and wielded saws and hammers to make sure the job got done.
Garner remembers that building project very well. She was at one time MCNS maintenance director as well as treasurer.
Garner, who sent all three of her children to the preschool, gets frequent reminders of the impact the MCNS has had on the community throughout the years. Several members of her church congregation attended the nursery school, affirming what a great experience it was for them.
While Garner thinks it’s a shame the MCNS could not remain parent-run, she knows that it would have been very hard for volunteers to retain business as usual with the mounting state and federal regulations being placed on nursery schools and child care facilities.
“In some ways, it was hard to let it go,” Garner said. “But I am thankful Mary Johnson was willing to take on the program. I feel good knowing there will still be a quality child care facility in that building.”
Mary Johnson Children’s Center Co-director Ilana Snyder said her organization was ready and willing to absorb the MCNS when its directors pitched the idea.
“We saw it as an opportunity to serve more children in the county,” Snyder said.
She added there will be few changes to the MCNS program. The facility currently offers a full-day program and a half-day option.
“The (MCNS) has been around for a long time and we don’t want it to lose its character or identity,” Snyder said.
The MCNS currently has around 25 enrollees, with the capacity to accommodate a few more children. Those kids will continue to receive excellent services — though no longer under the eyes of their parents. That history will be savored by the MCNS parents who enjoyed it.
“It was a real joy to see my own children have the same loving, encouraging atmosphere I enjoyed as a child,” Eddy Moulton said.