2016-08-04 / Front Page

Pre-school seeks to continue

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

Calla Burman, left, and Will Lawler, right, at the Saco Bay Montessori School, located at the Saco Community Center at 75 Franklin St. The private pre-school has been housed in the city building for three years, and is seeking a new three year lease. (Courtesy photo)

Calla Burman, left, and Will Lawler, right, at the Saco Bay Montessori School, located at the Saco Community Center at 75 Franklin St. The private pre-school has been housed in the city building for three years, and is seeking a new three year lease. (Courtesy photo)

SACO – After its third year at the Saco Community Center, the Saco Bay Montessori School is seeking a renewal of its lease with the city to remain at the Franklin Street center. School owner, director and teacher Tobee Labbe said the relationship with the city has been mutually beneficial.

The school, which was located in Biddeford Pool for 20 years, came under Labbe’s direction seven years ago. Labbe said needs were changing among families who brought their children to the school and she wanted a more central location.

“I ended up meeting with parks and rec and was basically looking for different ideas,” Labbe said. “They expressed an interest in a partnership and it has worked really well, because they had talked about offering (pre-school) in their children’s programming and when you’re trying to start your own school, there’s a lot to that in getting organized … It was win-win. We were already a turnkey school that had already been running.”

Labbe said the school is open during the school year from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and an extended day from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and many children sign up with Saco Parks and Recreation’s after school programs at the center, where they can go right after their school day.

“They do have smaller sandbox programs for smaller kids,” Labbe said. “We have people stop by the classroom to see what we’re about, and it just gets more exposure for parks and rec, to have them in the building, too. Parks and rec’s got kids, I got kids.”

“It introduces some of the kids in the school to our programs, starts them off with an introduction to our programs at a very early age,” said Director of Parks and Recreation Joe Hirsch.

Labbe said the school serves about 20 families and is at full enrollment with a waiting list to get in. The majority of the school’s students are from Saco, but there are also children from Biddeford, Kennebunk, Waterboro and Wells.

“If someone is looking for a Montessori philosophy and they really like that, it’s unique and different from traditional, then people are more willing to travel a little bit,” she said.

The Montessori experience is different, Labbe said, because it taps into not just the academic but the social aspects of childhood.

“It’s all areas of the child, more like experiential learning … It’s definitely more of a learning experience that’s not left to chance, in what’s called a prepared environment – the equipment, the scenario, the teachers – it all sort of works together.”

The school teaches a multi-age classroom of 3- to 6-year-olds and has three teachers, including Labbe, all certified in the Montessori teaching method. The school is also a certified kindergarten. However, most children move on to the public schools for kindergarten, Labbe said.

“Montessori is not your mainstream school. The style that they teach is very exploratory,” Hirsch said. “Kids work on things at their own pace … Learning can be very expedited. It’s quite conducive to how our programs operate. Kids are encouraged to make the right choices on how to do things or how to learn things.”

Aside from being able to link up with Saco Parks and Recreation’s after school programs, another benefit to being at the community center, Labbe said, is access to seniors.

“What’s nice about it is that over the last year, where parks and rec has started to amp up their SENIORity program – when I was first here, they hadn’t really launched it or got it off the ground – it’s really nice to see some of the seniors in the building and be able to be in that space,” Labbe said. “It’s the whole gamut, from pre-school to elderly. It’s been a nice thing for me to see, being here, that the seniors are coming here.”

“We have a very large walking contingency of seniors, 15 to 20 at a time, walking through the building. They love to stop and watch the kids,” Hirsch said.

The lease under consideration by the council would rent the space at the community center to the school for ninemonth terms at $820 a month in the first year of the renewed lease, $840 the second year, and $860 in the third year. The lease also provides for the city to be able to access and use the space at times when the school is not using it, such as after school hours and on weekends.

The item will appear on the council’s consent agenda for a vote on Monday, Aug. 15.

“It works for parks and rec because I’m not competing with parks and rec,” Labbe said. “They mostly have after school or weekend programs. We’re really a complement, not in competition.”

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