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Kirkland Children’s School set to expand to keep up with early childhood education demand
A new addition to the Kirkland Children’s School was recently approved by the Kirkland City Council and Houghton Community Council that will include three additional classrooms, nine parking stalls and a rain garden for children to learn.
Director Rachel Mikulec has been working with parents, city council members and the community for nearly four years on the expansion of the school and she describes the support as overwhelming.
“Houghton Council members (Lora) Hein and (Betsy) Pringle actually said they had never seen a ‘love fest’ like it before in response to all the support letters and council meeting attendees,” said Mikulec in an email. “Yesterday, Councilman Sternoff said Kirkland Children’s School is an asset to the community. The process has truly been awesome on all levels.”
The school, formerly the Red Farm School, was founded by Rosalind Simmons in the late 1960s in Kirkland’s Houghton neighborhood. It is among four other schools located on the Eastside that use an early childhood educational approach by incorporating curriculums as early as 1 year old.
And this approach is likely why the school currently has a one-in-a-half to a two-year wait list for the toddler and preschool programs - one of the reasons the school of about 100 will expand.
“I think parents have become more aware of what their early childhood education options are, and they are doing a lot more research on schools before enrolling,” Mikulec said.
When Mikulec began working at Kirkland Children’s School about seven years ago, she said the school was full with students but did not have a wait list. Now, nearly 300 students and families eagerly await a phone call to let them know a spot has been opened.
Mikulec speculates its popularity has been from word of mouth - almost all students live in Kirkland or their parents work in the city - as a way to find schools that offer science and music lessons for toddlers, among other features.
“There was a point in time it was just kind of, drop my child off and pick my child up at the end of the day and know that there was a good meal, they were read to, they were held and their diaper was changed,” Mikulec said. “Now, those things are assumed, basic care is assumed. They want to know: Was their child nourished? Did they have educational opportunities? Were they engaged? Were they encouraged to explore? They definitely want to know different things now than they did back in the day.”
Jonni Ressler, a parent of two children who attended the school, agrees that the early childhood approach was necessary.
“They each entered first grade with the confidence and skills to take on the challenge of grade school,” Ressler said. “Additionally, they helped us identify special needs in our eldest son, which enabled us to engage with the right support and therapies aimed specifically at those with Asperger’s. Although they don’t specialize in this, they were able to work so closely with him and with such a small ratio that their initial feedback and assessments were of great value to us.”
While the wait list may seem daunting, Mikulec encourages families to call back every three months to check in and communicate with staff if they are still interested. The 3,400-square-foot building will allow the school to take on about 60 additional students, which will help curb the wait list, but not quite enough.
“When you’re starting at the number we’re starting at, it’s significant for sure but in terms of the need in the community, it’s not going to put a dent in it,” she said.
Nonetheless, children who do attend can also look forward to outdoor classrooms, a rain garden and themed play areas such as an edible garden, gnome village or a potential climbing structure. Although all student’s curriculums have environmental education, Mikulec hopes this will further put an emphasis on outdoor learning.
“We believe children should be outdoors,” Mikulec said. “They need to have those real life experiences of getting dirty, falling down, getting a scratch on the knee, feeling things, getting wet, getting hot and sweaty in the summer - all of those things.”
However, the monthly tuition of this private school ranges from $610 to $1,515 per child and is based on the age of the child and how many days he or she attends.
Mikulec hopes construction will begin in a few months so the building will be finished in August but notes sometimes unexpected things can come up along the way.