MARLBORO—The Board of Trustees at the Meeting House School is throwing a party on June 9 to celebrate the end of another successful year at the preschool.
This gathering will be its last, because on June 7, after 45 years of operations, the Meeting House School is closing for good.
Lauren MacArthur, co-president of the school’s Board of Trustees, explained why: “We’re closing because a public pre-kindergarten is starting at Marlboro’s elementary school.”
Beginning in September, The Marlboro School, a public K-8 school, will offer an Early Learning Program for 3- and 4-year-old children.
The Meeting House School opened its doors in 1973. It was founded by Liza Ketchum, and since its inception, has occupied space in the Marlboro Meeting House. Officials at the meeting house “rent to the school at a very reasonable rate and have been very supportive for a long time,” MacArthur said.
The school is run by a volunteer board, and has a paid head teacher and school director, and an assistant teacher.
The program emphasizes a play- and nature-based curriculum. “They go out into the woods every day,” MacArthur said.
The teachers promote healthy snacks for their pupils. MacArthur pointed out the success they had in getting her daughter, Louisa, to overcome her dislike of beets. Louisa, 4, confirmed with The Commons that she now enjoys eating the vegetable.
MacArthur pointed out that Louisa will be one of the “crossover kids,” who is finishing up a year at the Meeting House School, and this coming September will attend the Early Learning Program.
When asked why this is all happening now, MacArthur pointed to Act 46.
There had been discussion about starting an early education program at the public school “for a long time,” MacArthur said. They postponed the decision, she said, because of the uncertainties of the school’s future.
Under Act 46, there was a possible merger between public schools in Marlboro, Wardsboro, and Dover. Why plan for a public pre-K at the Marlboro School if the new, combined Board of Directors decided they didn’t want it?
“Nobody knew what the merger would mean [for the school],” said MacArthur, who added, “Who will make the hiring decisions?”
After Marlboro voters defeated the merger and the state approved the school’s plan to remain its own autonomous school district, “we could proceed,” she said.
Although the defeat of the merger helped the Meeting House School’s trustees decide to end their program, “it was a hard decision,” MacArthur said. “It’s very bittersweet. The school has been a very cherished part of the community. So many kids have gone through that program.”
What tipped the scales further was the recognition that, by sending the early education program to the public school, “it was in the best interests of more people in town,” she said. “There are more resources at Marlboro’s elementary school. There’s phys ed, the library, arts.”
Another benefit, MacArthur pointed out, is the interaction the pre-schoolers will have with the kindergarteners. “They’ll be closely connected,” she said, especially in the school’s forest programs.
A collaborative effort
Working with the board and administration at The Marlboro School “has been very much a collaborative effort, with respectful communication,” MacArthur said.
She said the Meeting House trustees plan to continue supporting the pre-K program, likely as a subcommittee of the elementary school’s Association of Marlboro Parents organization, and to help with the transition. MacArthur noted some Meeting House School parents were involved in the hiring process for the pre-K program’s staff.
MacArthur made it clear that the Meeting House School is not closing because it’s failing, and that that was one aspect that made the decision difficult for the trustees.
“Meeting House has been thriving. We’ve had to turn kids away” because classes were at capacity, she said. She noted many Meeting House alumni have moved back to Marlboro in the past few years, and they enrolled their children at the school.
By closing Meeting House, more kids may have the opportunity to participate in the program.
Students at the Meeting House School attended three or four days per week, but only for half-days. “There’s a need for more days in the week. Working families can’t send their kids to Meeting House because it’s not open for enough hours,” MacArthur said.
Four-year olds can attend The Marlboro School’s pre-K program for four half-days or five full days per week.
As a private institution, the Meeting House School charged tuition to attend, but, as MacArthur explained, “Act 166 kept it reasonable.” The 2014 legislation created universal pre-kindergarten, which allocated funding to pay for 10 hours per week for each Vermont child who attends a public or private pre-school.
Because The Marlboro School is public, Marlboro residents can send their three- and four-year-old kids for free. Out-of-towners pay tuition, but Act 166 funding covers 10 hours per week for that program, too.
MacArthur noted Act 166 provides “school choice,” so children can attend schools in other towns and still receive state support.
To further assist families, MacArthur noted The Marlboro School will offer financial aid to qualifying out-of-town students, and some of that money comes from the Meeting House School’s coffers.
“We’re financially strong, so we can give money to the elementary school for scholarships, and for building improvements. We’re also giving all of our stuff — nice toys, a play structure — to the school,” MacArthur said.
“We’re shocked by how much money we have left over from saving, and from our fundraising,” she said.
“People love to support the small people of the community,” she noted.
As one example, MacArthur mentioned the Mudfling, an early-spring fundraiser featuring live music, a dessert buffet, and a silent auction. The event brought in between $4,000 and $10,000 each year to support the Meeting House School.
According to The Marlboro School’s Early Learning Brochure, “The Mudfling will continue on as an annual community event and fundraiser to support the preschool class.”
On June 9, the Meeting House School will host its last hurrah. MacArthur invites the public to “come celebrate and honor the school and the people who have made it such a special place."