PLAISTOW — Rainbow Preschool and Kindercare ends every school year with a celebration of students’ transition to Pollard School.
This year, the celebration ended with final goodbyes.
The preschool program is closing its doors after operating out of First Baptist Church on Main Street for 39 years, the Rev. Aaron Goodro said.
The program always worked, although unofficially, in tandem with Pollard School, the kindergarten through grade 5 elementary school next door, Goodro said.
When Pollard added half-day kindergarten seven years ago, Rainbow switched its kindergarten program to “kindercare.” Kindercare students spent a half-day at Pollard and the rest of their day at Rainbow.
But with Pollard launching paid, full-day kindergarten next year, enrollment at Rainbow Preschool took a serious dive, Goodro said.
“At current student levels, we were not able to support staff salaries or materials,” Goodro said, “nor was it feasible to add enough students this summer to make up the difference.”
Pollard School principal Michelle Gaydos couldn’t be reached for comment.
Rainbow had 104 students enrolled at its peak, school director Andrea Lohnes said.
In the school year that just ended, there were 18 kindercare students. For the fall, just four students had enrolled, Goodro said.
“That just let the school and church know the community needs a change,” he said. “We have to be sensitive to that. As hard as it is to see Rainbow close, that’s what it has to be.”
That’s tough for the Lohnes to accept after working at the school for 28 years, 18 of them as its director, she said.
“I understand why it has happened and it’s not a surprise at all,” Lohnes said. “It’s a personal loss for me. You choose this type of career because you love what you do.”
The school’s attention to traditional, old-fashioned kindergarten is what made kindercare so popular, several parents said.
“(Public) kindergarten right now, for my daughter, is two and a half hours long, and it’s all standards and academics,” parent Sarah Ommen said. “They don’t go out to play. They don’t do art. She doesn’t bring home projects like she did in preschool.”
What Rainbow provided was special, parent Jessica Aprile said.
“When my daughter is sitting in the shower or at dinner and I hear her humming, she’s humming a song she learned at Rainbow,” Aprile said. “I remember coming home to my parents after school and singing to them. That’s the stuff that stuck with me as a younger child.”
As the school year wound down, word started getting out that the school was closing. Those who signed their children up for next year received letters and tuition checks were returned, Ommen said.
There wasn’t any advance warning of the school closing, which she said could have saved the school.
“I was heartbroken,” Ommen said. “I felt bad for the other kids that were going to miss out. If parents had known the jeopardy of this program closing, more parents would have said, ‘I don’t want the program to close.’”
Lohnes said patience could have also saved the school, or at least delayed its closing.
“Typically, we don’t get most of our enrollments until August,” Lohnes said. “My hope was that they were going to wait until the end of the summer and give me some time. But enrollment certainly was down. Certainly, we were going to have to make some big changes in the school.”
When it came time for kindercare students to end their year, the final celebration had a different tone.
“Every parent wanted to be a part of it. We were all asking to take part in it and take pictures, and volunteer,” Aprile said. “They didn’t want it to end.”
But as much as the celebration tried to focus on only the year ending, participants couldn’t ignore the road ahead.
“There were a lot of tears — a lot of happiness and trying to be happy for the children, but trying not to think about what was coming,” Aprile said. “Every moment, you could tell with that lump in your throat. It was more than an end-of-the-year party. It was the end.”
There’s no ill-will for those saying goodbye.
“I’m leaving the job knowing it was a great school. It started out as a great preschool. We grew, grew, grew,” Lohnes said. “But times change and things change. There’s a lot of private preschools that have closed around here.”
There is a silver lining, she said.
“I’ve run into a couple of students who work at Market Basket or things like that. I imagine I’ll run into more now that school isn’t in session,” Lohnes said. “Mostly, we filled our program by word of mouth. I’ve always felt confident that we’ve had a good school, but it’s nice to know people remember from years past.”
The church will adapt, Goodro said.
“It has been a really good church-community link for almost 40 years, and it’s sad when anything that long has to cease operation,” Goodro said. “The church is going to move on in other ways to serve the community. It’s a new season for us, and that’s a positive unknown for us.”