by Sydney Roach, Holcad Writer
NEW WILMINGTON, Pa.– The Preschool Lab at Westminster College, located in the Hoyt Science Resource Center, will close at the end of this semester. Parents with children currently enrolled in the program first got this message on Jan. 17 through a messaging app. Director of the Preschool Lab Mandy Medvin also posted an announcement on the web page for the lab.
“Our preschool remains licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and for the remainder of the year, we will continue to provide the same high-quality educational experiences that garnered us national recognition through accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. On behalf of myself and our teachers, Melissa Moore and Jennifer Matyasovsky, I would like to extend our thanks to the many Westminster College faculty and staff, the community, and especially to our families, who have given us tremendous support across the years here. Together we have made a difference in the lives of young children.”
President Richardson said that the reason for the Preschool Lab closing is because of budget issues at the college.
“We’re in the middle of a zero-based budgeting effort here at the college. The college has been operating in a deficit mode for several years, and we’ve got to address that. As part of that, we’re looking at all of the expenditures that the college has, and the preschool subsidy was one of those.”
The Preschool Lab offered opportunities to Westminster students. Many psychology and education students used it for practicum hours, research and experience in their field.
“I am saddened by the lost opportunities for education students to observe, volunteer and work on research projects at the Westminster Preschool,” said Chair of the School of Education Amy Camardese. “The preschool has been an important and integral component of our curriculum.”
Two student aides are chosen each semester to work in the lab alongside the teachers. Samantha Dubetz is a senior child and family studies major and the student aide for the Tuesday/Thursday class. She has been involved with the Preschool Lab for three semesters.
“This preschool lab has truly changed my college experience,” Dubetz said. “I came into college knowing that I wanted to work with children in the future, and if it weren’t for the preschool lab, I wouldn’t have gained the knowledge and experience that I can explain to others and put on my resume.”
Nicole Cox, a Westminster graduate and a parent with two children enrolled in the Preschool Lab, started a petition on Change.org to protest and try to avoid closing the Preschool Lab. It currently has over one thousand signatures and dozens of comments on the site and on social media speaking out in support of keeping the lab open. Her cause has also caught the eye of the New Castle News, who picked up her story in late January.
“The petition I created was because of a very strong belief in education, especially in young children, being a teacher myself, and I just want to advocate for the preschoolers who are not able to speak for themselves on the issue of the preschool closing,” Cox said.
The petition asks parents with students in the program and “anyone who cares about the education of young children” to ask Westminster College and the Board of Trustees to keep the lab open.
“We hope that you, Westminster College and the Westminster College Board of Trustees, find a way to keep this important part of our community open for operation,” the petition reads. “Please consider all of your options before just closing. If you close this preschool, you’re teaching the students at Westminster this: ‘If you fail, just give up.’ This goes against what Westminster stands for.”
Richardson responded to the strong reaction from Cox and others. She acknowledged the great success stories about the program from students, parents, and those who attended the Preschool. But in the end, it’s she says it’s not sustainable.
“It was a hard decision, and while we respect the emotions associated with it, we have to make the decisions that are the best for the institution and its future and our undergraduates and their future here. Lots of factors have to be taken into consideration as you make those kinds of decisions, and, unfortunately, in this case, we had to think more about the financial outcome than some of those other factors. Again, we are very sorry about that, but the challenging economic environment is just a reality these days for small colleges. We’re in challenging economic times, and don’t always get to continue doing things that we were doing as we focus our financial commitments.”