To understand SYC as it is today, it is important to know a little of how the school came about. The two women who founded the school, Lee Row and Janet Stocker, had a dream of creating a school that would meet the developmental needs of young children. Both women have previous teaching experience with preschoolers and were eager to put their creative energies into building a school of their own. They envisioned a school where large periods of the time would be allotted to free play and where art material would be available all the time. They wanted to encourage creative thinking and problem solving in young children.
In 1969 the First Unitarian Universalist Church opened its doors to Janet and Lee by sponsoring the preschool as a social outreach program to the community. The church’s Sunday School classrooms were spacious, with ceiling to floor glass windows, and the grassy areas outside made for a lovely setting for playgrounds. The founders and their teachers developed ideas for the program by imagining they were children and imagining what kind of preschool they would want to be in. These early teaching teams attended to enter the child’s world and build a program which allowed children to interact with each other in rooms filled with developmentally appropriate play materials. It seemed to the founders that children’s interaction with each other, with materials in the classroom, and with the teachers were the fertile soil through with young children could grow and develop.
Lee and Janet noticed that the first step to becoming an autonomous playing child was for that child to separate successfully from parents. Strategies for helping children feel safe at school and for helping families deal with feelings aroused by separation were developed to smooth the entrance to school. Retired master teacher Shirley Cheney says, “The process of setting positive patterns and coping styles for separation are an important part of SYC’s philosophy and curriculum.”
Another area of special concern to Lee and Janet was the protection of children’s rights. Lee says, “When teachers do consistently set proper limits, it isn’t simple case of reading children their rights. These rights have to be reinforced each time they have been violated.” The rules of the classroom becoming a living reflection of children’s rights.
Children have a right:
- To feel safe
- To non-interrupted play
- To keep a toy or a piece of equipment as long as they are using it
- To play with whomever they want and discontinue playing whenever they want
- To not be abused by someone emotionally or physically
- To have possessions not be destroyed intentionally
- To bring an object brought from home and not have to share it
- To have the consistent support of teachers in the enforcement of these rights
Furthermore, said the founders, everyone is responsible for his/her own actions and the effect she/he has on other people. Many devoted teachers, along with parents and children, have contributed to the development of the program in the last 20 years. The guiding force in the program’s development of the program in the observations of the children and the teachers’ assessment of the children’s reactions to art activities, play, classmates, materials in the classroom,and the teachers’ assessment of themselves.
SYC has grown from two classes with 40 students to nine classes with 147 students. We have 15 part-time teachers, an office administrator, and co-directors who also teach a class. Those of us who presently work at the school see SYC as a dynamic, exciting place to work. We never stop learning; we never stop creating, and we stay focused on maintaining a school that is truly for young children. To enter SYC’s doors is to enter the world of the child–to see, to hear the noises, and to feel the excitement and warmth of participating in what the children are capable of doing, to hear the noise of what children are capable of doing.
…Jan Waters, SYC Director Emerita