It is a place for parents to trade concerns about child-rearing while the children play, and a place for high school students who may want to study education down the road to gain valuable early childhood teaching experience.
But with the phasing out of the early childhood education vocational program at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, the Martha’s Vineyard Family Center, with its comfy blue couches and pleasing play spaces for children, will now need to relocate.
The center must move out of the high school by 2014. A new space has not been determined yet.
Supported by a grant from the Children’s Trust Fund, a Massachusetts organization that leads statewide efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect, the Vineyard Family Center center is one of seven similar programs across the state. All the programs are free. The center offers playgroups for all ages, including baby’s first year, a dads-only group and parenting classes throughout the year. The center has operated out of the same space since 1996, and is run by Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, which has an agreement with the high school to lease the space rent free.
But despite the fact that a group of parents recently started a petition to urge the high school to reconsider its decision to have the center relocate, that may now end.
“We’ve never paid rent before and if we have to pay rent it will mean a lot less programming,” said center director Marney Toole this week. “We have a lot of positive energy going . . . and we’re pursuing all of our options. No ideas are being turned away at this point.”
Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss said he gave the Family Center official notice in December, but that the matter has been under discussion for about a year. Mr. Weiss said the space is needed for other high school programs, although no firm decision has been made yet about how it will be used.
The center also provides an accredited program for early childhood education students to gain teaching experience.
“We have three teachers here that have been through that program,” Mrs. Toole said. “There’s a real need for child care and well-prepared child care providers. To not have that offering is hard.”
There are currently six students enrolled in the program.
“[Students] have been active participants, providing playgroups and materials over the years, coming in and doing observations, and the parents have gotten to know them,” Mrs. Toole said. “Every year they played a different role.”
She said the high school now is looking to offer the program as an independent study.
Kim Averill, a parent who has used the Family Center, praised the program. She said she moved to the Island seven years ago, two weeks before she gave birth to her first child, and her subsequent time spent at the center was a key factor in helping her adjust.
“It gave me the support I needed being a new mom and going through feeding and not sleeping and just the whole thing . . . and it was huge to have it at the high school,” she said. “It was something I could count on — it was centrally located, the same place same time every week. It brought you into the community, knowing it was in the high school. It’s just the perfect space.” She continued:
“It’s easy for people to say, meet at the library . . . but when you’re a new mom and so overwhelmed and sleep deprived you want to know it’s the same place,” she said. “You’re breast-feeding, you’re exhausted, you didn’t get to shower that morning. It was a safe place with great sofas and coffee.”
Lindsay Famariss, another parent who uses the center, agreed that the location at the high school made sense.
“It’s very sad for me if it leaves the high school because I think it’s a place the whole community does comes together,” she said. “For dads it made them feel more comfortable too, to feel like they’re going to the high school and not going to a mom-infested place.” Her husband, Clark Myer, concurred.
“For the dads we get to develop some really long-term friendships with some men we might have never met,” he said. “It was a new experience for me to have a little guy and when he would act out, it was a chance to say, I don’t know what to do about this, is this normal . . . I think it’s a great resource for the community. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Mrs. Toole said the center will look for something much like what they have now — a space comfortable for adults and children that can hold a variety of learning spaces, and maybe even a classroom.
“We want it to be accessible,” she said, adding her dream would be to have a kitchen too.
Ms. Toole said 2014 may sound like a long time from now, but every day will be needed to find the right space.
“It’s a good amount of time and it’s not enough time — people are starting to realize that we need to start problem solving,” she said.