A South Whidbey early childhood learning facility recently received a grant to help address the growing need for childcare on the island.
The Whidbey Island Waldorf School has been awarded $50,000 from the State Department of Commerce in the “minor renovation/pre-development” category. The Department of Commerce awarded a total of $43.2 million in grants to 69 early learning facilities in the state. The Whidbey Island Waldorf School is the only facility in Island County to receive a grant.
During the pandemic, enrollment in early childhood programs at the Clinton school has soared, expanding from three to five classes and from 50 children to a total of 73. Classes for the next school year are already full and the wait lists are getting lengthy.
It’s a situation the little school in the big woods has never encountered before in its 37-year history.
“Because we’re seeing this demand for services and we love what we’re doing and we’d love to do more of it, we’re exploring whether or not we could, at some point, grow physically to meet that need,” said Lori Barian, an administrator at the Waldorf school.
The pre-development grant will fund research, planning and preparation for potential additional facilities. A feasibility study, Barian explained, will help determine the school’s financial capacity for an expansion.
The school has already identified a need to upgrade its septic system.
“We know already that we need to expand our septic system if we add any additional classrooms,” Barian said. “That’s something we want to use this grant for.”
Separate from the grant, community donations are funding the construction of a new restroom on the property for grade school students, who have moved out of the main building to make way for the expanding class sizes of toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarteners.
“We’re short on grade school space now because we’ve given some of our classrooms over to early childhood,” Barian said. “It affects the whole school.”
In the fall of 2020, the school made the decision to suspend programming for the grade school and instead focus on early childhood education. This school year, grades 1-6 returned to campus and seventh grade will make a return next school year.
The school’s planning committee and board of trustees are working to develop several different scenarios for meeting programming needs in the upcoming 2022-2023 school year. This could potentially include the addition of a fully outdoor early childhood class.
Aside from septic work, no construction will be started this year. As part of the grant, the school is working with a local architect to determine a new vision for the campus. Since the school is located on land owned by the Whidbey Institute, that vision will be included in an update of the Whidbey Institute site plan on file with the county.
Barian said it is wonderful that the State Department of Commerce is acknowledging the great need for early childhood programming.
“We’re impressed with how many families have been moving to the island with young children. It’s quite a phenomenon,” she said. “It’s very exciting because a strong early childhood program here leads to larger grade school classrooms.”