Tucked away in an antique carriage house on an idyllic stretch of Bedford Road sits the Pleasantville Children’s Center (PCC) which is celebrating 50 years of providing early childhood education to the community. I recently spoke to PCC’s Director Colleen Sharif about the school, the community, and what the future has in store for PCC!
PCC was founded in October 1972 by a group of mothers who worked together at Reader’s Digest. They were looking for a special place for their children to learn and grow and succeeded in founding PCC. Since then, although educational methods have evolved, the philosophy stays the same – early childhood growth through a developmentally appropriate curriculum emphasizing self-expression, discovery, and problem solving with the goal of fostering a life-long enjoyment of learning.
PCC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization run by a Board of Directors comprised of parents. The Board is incredibly valuable to the school as it sets the vision for the school year by going over budgets, projects, events and more. As Sharif says, “During the pandemic, parents at all levels of education became more involved in school decisions- attending school board meetings and staying on top of policy changes, health and safety updates, etc. I think a lot more parents realized the benefits of being involved in and educated about important school matters and decisions. This is something that PCC has valued for 50 years! Parent involvement and teamwork with educators creates a well-rounded education for young children. We hope parents leave PCC with a drive to keep that involvement going as children enter the primary grades.”
What drives PCC is its focus on the children and its surrounding community. “We’re here to elevate childhood – we create a first educational experience for kids 2-5 where they can come and be loved, respected and cared for. They learn to love education and look forward to school by making learning a source of enjoyment and fulfillment.” PCC’s philosophy is centered on guided play and the view that teachers are guides for the kids. Teachers here are highly trained and educated in guided play and set up inviting and meaningful learning activities, open-ended play and lots of outside time – being in nature and going on walks. Instead of two, there are now three teachers in each classroom, allowing for more personal knowledge of and deeper relationships with each child. Teachers become a child’s “key person” which is helpful in fostering deeper relationships as well as honing in on any behavioral needs and more.
Now more than ever is the time for PCC to be in celebration mode as the school has been busy celebrating its 50th anniversary, while looking towards its bright future. “Our anniversary was during Covid and we weren’t quite ready to do something in Fall 2022. We thought, let’s do something to celebrate the culmination of 50 school years completed,” says Sharif. As the school is a member of the Pleasantville Chamber of Commerce, they held a ribbon-cutting ceremony which was featured on PCTV.
Toward a First Little Free Library
But still, Sharif thought, they wanted to do more – something to give back to the community. “A Board member thought about having a Little Free Library (LittleFreeLibrary.org) and Pleasantville didn’t yet have any. We rent our school property from the Pleasantville Presbyterian Church so we asked them if we could install the library on their property as a thank you for being here for 50 years, and they thought it was great idea.” This is the first Little Free Library in Pleasantville and is a way to give back to the community-at-large. The school ordered an unfinished library and a parent volunteer painted it and added woodwork to make it look like the PCC building – a truly special act.
The school also celebrated the big 5-0 with an event at The Thorn of Thornwood. Many community members including the mayor, church officials, past parents and more were there to help celebrate. Laurie Smalley, Town of Mount Pleasant Councilwoman, presented PCC with a certificate at the event. In addition, the school has created the “PCC for Good” fund which aims to better the greater Pleasantville community through acts such as subsidized attendance to low-income families, providing emergency support to families suffering unexpected loss and more.
The fund was established in memory of founding member Barbara Waugh and PCC raised $2,000 for the fund at the anniversary event. “We always try to take advantage of community events and bolster our presence in the community,” says Sharif. “Word of mouth helps us and having our logo out there (on the Little Free Library) helps people know about us and our mission.”
In its vital role, the PCC Board of Directors helps plan community-based activities for kids and parents to be involved outside of school. It provides PCC with a sense of community and teamwork, and parents really feel they’re involved in the day-to-day of the school. PCC is the only preschool in Pleasantville that is a non-profit and run by a Board of parents.
Many parents feel very passionately about PCC and its role in their children’s lives. “The connection my son has formed with every educator he has been in contact with at PCC is nothing short of amazing. There is nothing I would change about the educators or the curriculum. It is an excellent program which is truly developmentally appropriate,” says Gianna Marzella. “The staff here becomes a part of your family and community. They show up every day with genuine love for what they do and for your child.”
“What School Should Be”
Current Board Co-President Gianine Beall shares the same sentiments. “PCC is such a special place and such a great way to introduce children to what school should be. It offers a caring, nurturing and safe environment while also encouraging children to find learning to be a source of fun and fulfillment.”
“As soon as we met PCC’s director, Colleen Sharif, we thought she was just wonderful – and that gave us so much confidence that PCC was the right place for our kids. It was clear from the start there was a passion for education, and the teachers are incredible,” says Board member Ben Brierley. “Overall, we felt PCC’s philosophy and values mirrored our own, and it gives a foundation to help our kids to grow up to be kind people, who help others and value their family, friends and community.”
As for the future, Sharif knows it’s a bright one. “We’re thriving and continue to offer a great preschool experience – highlighting our strengths and incorporating academics into play.” Teachers are integral to its overall program and PCC’s goal is to recruit and retain staff.
“We give teachers support, training, professional development and every year creates a better atmosphere and sense of community with the staff and parents.” Since PCC does not follow a specific state curriculum, it can pivot lessons very quickly. “Altering the curriculum to meet the interests of the child so they’re immersed in learning – that’s the best way to teach.”
“We’re continuing to offer a great pre-school experience – highlighting our strengths of incorporating academics into play. There’s a way to do both and it takes educated and experienced teachers to make learning fun and a source of enjoyment. We want to teach kids the skills they need without taking away their love and excitement to learn.”
Pre-K comes to PUFS
In mid-July the Pleasantville Union Free School District announced that they anticipate starting a Pre-K program beginning in January 2024 at no cost to district residents. New York State has provided funding to the District for 76 students for the 23-24 school year. If more than 76 students wish to enroll, the District is required to use a lottery system. Please visit pleasantvilleschools.org
PHOTOS COURTESY OF PCC AND CHAD DAVID KRAUS PHOTOGRAPHY