Children’s School introduces youth to Chautauqua experience

Josh Cooper | Staff Writer

For children who visit Chautauqua, Children’s School may be the beginning of a lifelong love for the Institution, according to Jack Voelker, director of the Department of Recreation and Youth Services.

“It really is the entry-level experience of the life of the community, because this is how you start getting to be a part of the Chautauqua experience,” Voelker said.

The program, which serves upward of 150 children per week, runs from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday for children ages 3 to 5.

Gwen Papania, assistant director of the Department of Recreation and Youth Services, says Children’s School is much more than a drop-in daycare.

“It’s really an educational program,” Papania said. “We stress that it’s not the sort of thing where you are expected to drop off a kid for a day or two days. It’s a program where relationships are built.”

Papania says another element of Children’s School that makes it different from other programs is the arts education that is built into the daily routine. Every year, the Children’s School coordinates witt the artistic programs within the Institution to bring in musicians, dancers and singers to expose the children to different art forms.

“They work closely with the School of Music, and the (Chautauqua) Opera and the School of Dance, so in three hours it’s unbelievable what the kids get,” Papania said. “The best word I can think of to describe the Children’s School is that it’s very rich.”

The lesson plans revolve around weekly themes. This year the themes are “America Celebrates,” “Bird, Tree, and Garden,” “I Spy/My 5 Senses,” “The Arts,” “Wild, Wild West,” “Happy Birthday Chautauqua,” “Construction,” “Once Upon a Time” and “Silly Science.” The daily activities, like making crafts and storybook reading, are based on the week’s theme.

Voelker says the size and scope of the program is an indication of the Institution’s commitment to families. The program runs in the morning, which is the time many of the main activities take place at the Institution.

“Children’s School being in the morning allows parents to go to the lectures, play golf, take a Special Studies class or any of the many things that adults are inclined to do here,” Voelker said.

The staff of Children’s School consists of certified teachers, college students, high school students and volunteers. There are six classrooms, two for each age group, each staffed with four teachers, at least two of whom are certified.

Voelker says a large percentage of teachers stay on staff for a number of years. Out of 45 total staff members, there were only five vacant positions that needed to be filled this year.

“There’s been tremendous continuity of staff,” Voelker said. “It’s representative of what happens at Chautauqua in general. There’s loyalty; there’s a sense of connection; there’s a sense of community.

“Some of these teachers may have even been there as kids too; — it’s that sort of place.”