Melinda Harper, director of Learning Land Nursery School. The school has operated out of the First Parish Church basement for more than 50 years but will need to move when the lease expired in June. Harper hopes to use this as an opportunity to expand the program. (Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK– Melinda Harper’s office is slowly filling up with boxes as Learning Land Nursery School, which operates out of the basement of First Parish Church, prepares to move for the first time in more than 50 years. Harper, the Learning Land director, said the school has found a new home in Brunswick that is already set up as an educational space and should be ready when the lease expires at the end of June

To make that move, Learning Land is trying to raise $75,000 before June 30. So far, they have about $15,000.

Harper declined to say where Learning Land would relocate to until the school has notified students’ families.

The move signals new beginnings, both for the First Parish Church, which will utilize the space after recent renovations and for Learning Land, which, in the new space, will be able to expand its current offerings.

Learning Land enrolls 54 students, with no more than 10 per class. Monthly tuition ranges from $150 for a two-day-a-week program to $290 for a five days per week.

All the teachers have been working there for at least 20 years. Harper said the curriculum is “child-directed, teacher-facilitated,” and that they focus on building social-emotional skills like how to listen, empathize and play well with other children to get them ready for kindergarten.

With the move, the school will be able to offer a full-time program. At present there are two day, three day, four day and five-day programs offered, but they are only half-day and run September through May.  

The play-as-learning based school has seen multiple generations of families in its brightly colored classrooms over the last 50 years, something that Harper said communities don’t see very often.

Learning Land officials still intend to keep the rates around the same when they move to the as-yet-undisclosed new location, but they may make slight adjustments to get them closer to fair-market-rate, which they are currently below.

A larger program and any increase in rates would help the school pay for the new location’s rent, which is substantially higher than the $1,250 per month First Parish charged, although Harper did not say by how much.

“We got a little shock when we started looking,” she said.

“The landscape for early childhood education has changed dramatically,” in recent years, she said. With most households now having two working parents, full-day, five-day, year-round childcare is becoming more important, as seen with Brunswick’s anticipated public pre-kindergarten program.

Instead of worrying about losing students at a time when they will instead be trying to actively grow their program, Harper said she thinks Learning Land and the Brunswick pre-K complement one another. Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said recently that although they have not determined how the program will run, they may explore the option of having students in the classroom for half a day and then supplementing the second half at another facility, like Learning Land.

Ultimately, Harper said, she hopes they can work together with the school district, but noted that each program offers something different. What matters is that kids whose parents cannot afford private pre-K may have a public option, although Learning Land recently started accepting subsidies to help with that, can start school on the same foot as their peers.

“Early education should be open to everyone,” she said.

[email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: