Katrina Trask, located on 24 Circular Street in Saratoga Springs, is the only cooperative nursery school in our area. Many people may wonder what the word “cooperative” means in relation to a nursery school. Well, quite simply it means that parents are more involved in many aspects of the child’s learning experience. Katrina Trask parents commit to being a helping parent about 4-6 times a year for their child’s class, participate in fundraising activities for the school, take part in at least two committees, such as library, book club or babysitting, to name a few, as well as signing up for just one cleaning weekend a year. Once a month, there is also a Parent Coffee, which is voluntary, but allows parents to get together and assist the teachers with getting supplies ready for future classroom activities. Another option is to volunteer as a special guest, if a parent has a particular skill or talent they would like to share, such as music, dance, or a fun craft. As with many things, you get what you give, and the parents here are eager and happy to give and in return they and their kids get a lot.
Katrina Trask has been a cooperative nursery school for over 50 years. Back then, there were a group of parents who wanted more involvement in their children’s activities beyond just dropping them off at school. Their philosophy of “learn through play” was established and drawn up in 1961: “A professional teacher would employ a generally non-directive technique while offering a variety of experiences to children allowing for the individuality of the children so that they would grow and develop each in their own way.” This philosophy still holds true today. Although the children at Katrina Trask aren’t formally “taught” subjects such as science and social studies, they learn about these topics through manipulatives (any of various objects or materials that students can touch and move around in order to help them learn mathematical and other concepts) and programs brought into the classroom. The children gather and use a great deal of subject matter about the natural, physical, and social world of home, school, and neighborhood.
I met with the two teachers at Katrina Trask, Therese Lesser, and Andrea Famiano (dubbed “the children whisperers” by the parents) and they were more than happy to discuss their day, their philosophy, and their love of Katrina Trask. The two work together extremely well and compliment each other in personality and teaching styles. They take turns being the lead teacher (one for the 3’s and one for the 4’s), but admit that they agree on all planning and have similar views and philosophies. One of the things I found most impressive with this school are some of the “extras” that come along with a co-op. For example, the teachers visit incoming new students in the summer at their home. It is a way to introduce the children to their teachers in a comfortable and safe environment for them, and get them ready for that first day of school. The parents also set up play dates in the summer so the children can visit each other and feel connected through those off months.
A typical day involves many different stations set up around the classroom, with each part having a specific piece of play to introduce an activity. The children are encouraged to move to the different spaces in their own time, while experiencing and learning vocabulary, role playing, peer relations and just plain old fun. There are many interesting stations, such as blocks, puzzles, a water table and sensory table, dress-up and imaginative play. The time is divided between group time, where conversations and dramatization of stories, music and songs take place, snack time, story time, outdoor play and free choice activity play. The teachers and parent are there to facilitate the learning process and keep order among a group of three and four year olds. We all know how crazy this can be, and in cases where discipline is necessary, the teachers use redirection- pointing the child away from an area that is causing some sort of friction to another activity or area that will refocus them. If there happens to be a consistent need for redirection of one particular child, ‘taking a break’ may be employed to have the child think about their actions and get themselves ready to play according to the rules. Andrea and Therese explain that their rules are about healthy dynamics and relationships, such as gentle hands, quiet feet, use your words and friends share – general rules that we, as parents, use ourselves.
The communication and contact between parents and teachers is another remarkable aspect of this school. Therese put it best when she said, “The formula to our success is child + parent + teacher. Each one is a necessary element in the development of the child, and each is in equal parts.” The teachers are constantly speaking with the parents about goals, accomplishments and areas that need work. The discussion is done in front of, or with, the child so they are aware of the communication between home and school. The teachers also send home weekly calendars and monthly newsletters that are posted on the bulletin board as well for extra exposure.
Katrina Trask offers a three year old class (on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9am-11:30am) and a four year old class (on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9am – 12noon). Children must be turning three by December 31st of that year to enter into the three year old class. Class size is 14 students maximum for the threes and 16 students in the fours. This translates to a 1:5 ratio between child and adult. Registration begins in September for returning students and alumni and they offer between 2-4 spaces for new students through this Open Registration period. After January 31, any open spots are available to new families, who can learn even more about Katrina Trask at their Open House on February 1st between 9-11am and 6-7pm. The cost changes year to year, due to budget, expenses, etc., but as an example, this year’s cost was $1285 for the three’s and $1645 for the fours. The payments are divided quarterly and begin in May of the previous year.
I also had the chance to talk to the President of the Board of Trustees, Marny Mansfield, the Treasurer, Jill Harshbarger, the co-chair of the school, Ingrid Giso, and the fundraising co-chair, Sheila Vanacore. They, along with both teachers, are parents of current students as well as alumni. Their positions are some examples of parent responsibilities within the school. Camaraderie amongst parents is fostered in many ways, whether it be active participation in various committees, or involvement in planning and assisting with school activities. The cooperative nature of the school makes Katrina Trask a wonderful place to get to know other families through extra events as well. They host Pizza/Family Potluck Night, Family Pumpkin Carving, Pajama Night, a Dad’s Luncheon and Mom’s Tea, to name just a few! They were excited to talk about their school, and all of them had nothing but wonderful things to say about their own and their child’s experience. “It is great for the whole family. Me and my child have both met friends who we will stay in touch with, even after nursery school is over,” says Sheila.
Here are some more comments made by KT parents on our own website:
“My son is entering the 3s class at Katrina Trask this fall. We have met lots of families through the summer play dates and his teacher Mrs. Fammiano came to our house for a get to know you visit. We are extremely impressed so far and can’t wait for the school year to begin. We are looking forward to being part of a cooperative and getting involved in our children’s preschool.”
“We love Katrina Trask! My older son attended the 3s and 4s class and my younger son attended the 3s and currently enrolled in the 4s. The teachers are wonderful and a very positive nurturing learning environment! It was great to be involved in my son’s schooling and the boys loved learning through play. And I love the friendships made with other families there too!”
“Katrina Trask is the best! My son was there in the Threes and Fours, my daughter went for the Threes, and will be starting the Fours next month. The teachers are fantastic, and the learning through play philosophy prepares the children for a lifetime love of learning.”
“The Katrina Trask Nursery School is an amazing nursery school for 3 and 4 year old children to learn and grow. I love their philosophy and their dedication to learning through play. The teachers are over the top! They both have kind hearts and treat your children as if they were their own. They provide wonderful feedback about your child’s progress and performance on almost a daily basis. Because of the teacher’s involvement and that it’s a cooperative nursery school I feel so connected to my child’s learning experience and have the chance to watch their growth throughout the year.”
“My son went to Katrina Trask as a three year old and again as a four year old and we LOVED it! Wonderful teachers in a very nurturing environment and the co-op aspect was a great fit for our family. I loved being involved in all aspects of his first school experience and made several great friends with the other moms. It is a very special place and I look forward to sending my daughter there when she turns three!”