The Story of Mittagong Preschool - “The hope of the nation lies in its children”:
Mittagong Preschool is a community-based Preschool that was born out of community need & interest & has maintained its strong community ties over the ensuing years. The story of Mittagong Preschool is very much anecdotal, with stories told throughout its history.
So, the story begins with a donation of land from Winifred West (founder of Frensham Girl’s School) more than 40 years ago. She made this donation to the community as a resource to provide Mittagong and surrounding townships with early childhood education. A group of mothers then formed a committee to raise funds to build a Preschool. Legend has it, that by the time they had raised enough money; their children had passed the age to actually attend the Preschool. We owe our origins to those hardworking, altruistic & community-minded committee members.
The Preschool was built & officially opened on 6th March 1976. On the plaque located on the wall of the staff-room near the Koala Room, this date is proudly recorded & includes the quote from above: “The hope of the nation lies in its children”. The Preschool then functioned as a one-room 25 place centre, educating the children of the community.
In the late 1980’s, it became obvious that the population of young children in the Southern Highlands was booming & by 1988 the Preschool had 100 children in attendance per week, with the maximum attendance being 1.5 days per week. Expansion was clearly necessary!
Luckily we had a vacant block alongside the Preschool ... Winifred West must have known how much Mittagong was going to grow! We applied for a large Government Grant in 1990 ($250,000) & after some time, the ‘top’ room was officially opened on 15th May 1992. That project was jointly funded by The Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education & Training (principally) & the NSW Department of Family & Community Services. At this time, Wingecarribee Shire Council became the owners of both the land and buildings. They continue to support the Preschool through a peppercorn lease, reduced utility costings & a generous maintenance agreement.
We then happily progressed, educating our community’s children as a two-room 40 place centre. However, due to the funding freeze for recurrent funding, our budgeting ran quite lean for some years. We varied our hours during this time to respond to the needs of our families, providing an extended hours service. We extended from a 9 am – 3 pm program to 8.30 am – 4.00 pm. This not only increased our revenue, it also catered for the needs of our community of families. We were able to build our big new sandpit during this time with the help of some voluntary labour & expertise from generous families at the Preschool.
In 2006, when the funding freeze lifted, we felt a collective sigh of relief for our financial health. We also applied for a catch-up Government Grant to help after the years of hardship. In 2007, we received about $50,000 which facilitated our playground upgrade. We put in the new fort, shade sails & soft-fall, as well as the textured path, creek, garden beds & planter boxes.
In 2009 we received funding through a Climate Change Grant, which saw us change to environmentally-friendly lighting, install tanks for using tank-water in our new toilets & the fitting of water-saving devices on all taps. This was the beginning of our initiative to be more environmentally responsible, teaching the children about sustainability. We continue this today with our recycling bins, worm farm, compost tumbler & ‘nude’ foods.
From 2010 we focused on surveying the families to assess the need for more flexibility in our service. We decided to change our hours again, making 8.30 am – 3.30 pm our standard day (to 4 pm as extended hours). In 2014 we formalised this survey process, having an online survey available to all outgoing, incoming & waiting list families. We continue the process of listening to, & working with our families, to ensure we respond to community needs, maintaining a flexible community-based Preschool. From 2016 we changed our opening hours to 8 am - 4 pm, without an extended hours component to our day or fee-structure.
Over the years, one thing has remained the same; our commitment to the children and families of our community. As stated in our Philosophy and associated Vision Statement, “we are advocates for early childhood education and believe we exist in the interest of the children, their learning and well-being”. “Our educators will be reflective of our practices, provide an inclusive learning environment, review service provision and respond to community needs. We acknowledge the need to be proactive in promoting our service in the community and be advocates for our profession, our families and children”.