With a Mister Softie truck on standby for a post-ceremony celebration, Oyster Bay Preschool held a graduation car parade on June 18 that started on 60 East Main and Pearl streets and continued onto the First Presbyterian Church parking lot. The children received their diplomas, goodie bags, and an edition of the “Adventures of Frog and Toad,” while adhering to social distancing protocols. It was a big day for them, but also for the preschool, which celebrated its 40th year in operation.
One of the school’s Pre-k teachers, Lori Caggiano, her assistant, Marin Hertlein, and the director of the preschool, Beverly Zembko, coordinated the ceremony. “We are planning to keep them in their cars as long as possible,” Zembko said. “Being that is our 40th year especially, we wanted to do something that would celebrate the moment.”
“Especially this year, it’s really heart-warming and sad and sweet,” Caggiano said. “We were looking forward to watching them progress in their school year because we do not know what September brings,”
Kim Ringgold, of Oyster Bay, one of the graduating children’s parents, said she was impressed by the school. It provided a solid foundation and excellent introduction into the educational system, she said.
Oyster Bay Preschool was established in 1979 by a group of parents who were looking to have a parent inclusive learning environment for their children. When it was founded, parents were the main academic advisors. Each parent would volunteer to help contribute snacks or create a lesson plan.
“I think it was a good experience for all of the kids who started and finished there,” said Judy Wasilchuk, one of the founding mothers of the school.
In a class of 10, the children were able to have their questions answered and learn a little more, Wasilchuk explained. “I knew that it was a success because we always had people wanting to enroll their children in the program.”
However, as the school expanded and parents’ lives became busier, the school decided to move away from the cooperative setting and bring in professional teachers.
“The teachers at the school are the most caring and dedicated individuals that early education learners could ask for,” said Cara Talento, an Oyster Bay resident and mother of three who graduated from the preschool. “They are warm and welcoming with a great structure and routine in their classroom.”
Parents are still able to volunteer to be a special reader of the day or visit during snack time and birthdays. “At least four or five years ago we became a modified co-op,” said Zembko. “We welcome parents whenever they can come in.”
The learning experience for the children is transformative. “My oldest son is off to kindergarten next year and I am confident he is fully prepared for the transition,” said Ringgold. “I have seen him transition from a shy 2 year old into a more confident and outgoing 5 year old who sincerely loves learning and playing with others.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, the preschool has been able to continue interactive learning with the children on Zoom.
“This helped to maintain a little bit of normalcy,” Talento said. “It is hard to work with four and five year old’s remotely. They all behaved and reacted differently on the meets or did not participate at all, but thanks to the teachers no matter how they participated, they were always praised for their strength and their accomplishments.”
“I am hopeful we can keep these kids’ childhood as normal as possible given the current situation,” Caggiano said. “And that is what we tried to do for this with the interactions through Zoom and the emails with familiar classroom work.”
Oyster Bay Preschool’s mission statement epitomizes its commitment to the young students — a desire to provide an “educational experience that gives each child many and varied opportunities to explore and discover his/her world and develop into a self-confident thinker, do-er and problem solver.”
As Zembko said, “It’s a real community school.”