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Massena Nursery School struggling to keep doors open

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MASSENA — Since Massena Central School started its own prekindergarten program, enrollment at the Massena Nursery School has declined to the point that the nonprofit school’s future is in jeopardy.

“We’re 90 percent certain that we’ll be able to do at least one more year,” Massena Nursery School board President Mollie M. Ledbetter said, adding that the future beyond next year is in doubt.

“Our enrollment is so low that right now tuition isn’t even enough to pay the staff,” she said.

Director Deborah T. Long said the school’s problems began when Massena Central School started its universal prekindergarten, or UPK, program. “From that point on we just dropped,” she said.

According to enrollment figures provided by Ms. Long, the school had 130 children during the 2007-08 school year. The following year, when Massena began its prekindergarten program, Massena Nursery School had 88 pupils.

For the first year the district’s prekindergarten was a full-day program. The following year, the district instituted half-day pre-K with morning and afternoon sessions accommodating more children. The nursery school’s enrollment then fell to 41 children and has hovered between 41 and 53 children ever since.

This year, Ms. Long said, the school has 46 pupils. It charges $94 to $150 a month, depending on how many days a week a child attends. The school district’s pre-K is free.

“Massena Nursery School opened in 1959, and it was a thriving program until the UPK program started,” Ms. Ledbetter said. “Our concern is that since UPK is funded through a grant, if the grant is pulled and we close, there would be no preschool program up here, except for Head Start.”

Head Start is also an income-based program, meaning that children who do not qualify to attend would be left with no options for preschool.

Massena Nursery School, which is housed at the New Testament Church, has two classrooms for 3-year-olds and one for 4-year-olds, Ms. Long said. “Being the only 3-year-old program in the area, we get children from all over,” Ms. Long said, noting that this year the nursery school has students from Waddington, Norfolk and North Lawrence.

The programs help to prepare children for school, nursery school administrators say. “Our pre-K program is exactly like Massena Central’s, only we’re a smaller school with smaller classrooms,” Ms. Long said.

Vice President Renee M. Barto said closing the school is something no one wants.

“What we’re trying to do is make the public aware that we need good enrollment and a good turnout at Kids Fest,” she said. “That’s a big fundraiser for us.” Kids Fest is an annual carnival held in April.

To help spread the word further, the school will have a float in next week’s Winter Carnival parade.

For more information about the Massena Nursery School, call 769-5775, email Ms. Long at dlong@massenanurseryschool.com or visit www.massenanurseryschool.com.

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