By ERIN ROLL
Montclair Community Pre-K is marking its 20th anniversary this year.
The entire school — past and current students, staff, and parents — was the grand marshal for this year’s Fourth of July Parade. On Oct. 28, the school will hold its annual harvest carnival, which it says is the kickoff of a yearlong celebration.
And for a birthday present, it’s hoping to install a new playground.
MCPK has embarked on a capital campaign called “$20 for 20” to raise funds from the community.
The original students who enrolled in 1997 are now in their mid-20s. The “$20 for 20” outreach campaign invites alumni to contribute $20 each.
“We are taking the opportunity to, one, celebrate 20 years of the MCPK program; two, raise awareness regarding the tremendous importance of preschool; and three, [build] together for Montclair’s future through quality early childhood education for everyone,” school director Stephanie Fitzgerald said via email.
The celebration is an opportunity to thank past and present families for all their support over the years, and to raise awareness about the importance of preschool in a child’s life.
The Montclair Community Pre-K was established in 1997. Prior to the mid-1990s, Montclair had a public Pre-K program in the schools, which was introduced as part of the schools’ magnet program. But the district was forced to take another look at the Pre-K program when the township did not increase the school budget that year.
The topic of publicly funded Pre-K has come up at several recent board of education meetings. BOE member Eve Robinson has mentioned that the state may be making additional funding for Pre-K programs available.
Jane Susswein, a former member of the Montclair BOE, is on the MCPK board, as is Elizabeth Rich.
Susswein said the school’s mission is to provide programs that are comparable to those offered at private preschools in the area, and offerings that are in line with the public schools’ curriculum. There is a sliding tuition scale, based on families’ financial needs, and after-care programs for working parents.
The existing playground has been around since the school opened, and is showing its age.
Susswein and Rich said that for the new playground, the school would like to have different stations to reflect what the children are learning in the classroom: a small outdoor theater, an engineering-themed play space with oversized building blocks, and maybe an outdoor kitchen. “These kids are so amazing and adorable and we want to have a best-in-class play space,” Rich said.
The playground is open to children from the general community outside of school hours, something that Susswein and Rich said that the larger community, for the most part, was unaware of.
Aside from the MCPK playground, there are no playgrounds for small children in downtown Montclair; Susswein noted that the Hillside playground is not age-appropriate for Pre-K children.
Additionally, Susswein said, because of new building projects and new apartments in the downtown area, there are many families living in the vicinity.