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Playschool closes after 25 years

When the Hay River Playschool shut down on July 1, it closed the book on a quarter-century of providing Hay River children preschool education.

For 25 years, the playschool ran programming for three- and four-year-olds, but the introduction of Junior Kindergarten two years ago sealed its fate.

Kaylee McKinney, president of the Hay River Playschool, with her four-year-old daughter, Charlee-Rae Jackson, who was a student at the playschool. Sidney Cohen/NNSL photo

The Department of Education, Culture and Employment funds and licences preschool programs based on need in the community, Kaylee McKinney, the playschool's president, said on Thursday.

The availability of Junior Kindergarten means the playschool is no longer needed, so the department pulled its funding.

"Our decision to close didn't come out of left field," said McKinney.

She said staff and parents have known for a number of years that the playschool would have to shut its doors once JK was implemented, and that the final decision to close was made two years ago.

"It's pretty heartbreaking," McKinney said of the closure. All three of her children went through the playschool program.

"We have fought for the ability to keep Junior Kindergarten out of a community that didn't really require it," she said, "but we didn't have a choice and we have to roll with the times or get left behind."

As the playschool wound down, its board expressed their gratitude to the community that supported it through the decades.

The playschool had been a strong fundraiser, with its annual talent auction bringing in between $40,000 and $70,000 each year.

Knowing this year would be their last, the playschool operators decided to spend money earmarked for the talent auction on a gift to the town.

On Tuesday, McKinney and Jayda Robillard, on behalf of the playschool, presented town council with a $12,500 cheque for playground equipment in Hay River.

The contribution, McKinney told council, is a "small token of gratitude to the community for everything they have helped our program achieve over the last 25 years."

As for its building, the playschool collaborated with a non-profit in town on a new plan for the space, which has yet to be announced.

"We wanted to be able to hand off the building, because it wasn't built by me or the government, it was built by volunteers, and it was built by fundraising, and it was built by small businesses who really care," said McKinney.

The president showered praise on teacher Norma Shaw, who has been with the playschool for its entire run.

"She's like sending your kids to a Disney Princess for three hours, three times a week," said McKinney. "She's absolutely phenomenal with kids."

This year, to spend down its assets, the playschool cut its registration fees to $50 a month for the four-year-old program, which ran three days a week, and $35 for the twice-weekly three-year-old program. It also cut bus fees, fundraising and parent commitment fees.

"We just wanted it to be a really nice last year and use some of the funds for our program that had been raised for our program and give parents a break," said McKinney.

There were 22 children enrolled in the playschool this year.